Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy

38472977Lynn: Murphy opens Truce (Scholastic 2009) with a quote from Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, “What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute?” In the course of his research on The Great War, Murphy learned of just such an event, an “amazing moment in that war – a time when tens of thousands of troops on both sides simply refused to fight.” I was familiar with the story of one such event but astonishingly not only did it happen spontaneously at countless sections of the Western Front, but the unofficial truce lasted in some places for months. After Christmas, defying their officers, soldiers on both sides aimed their guns at the sky and in Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium the peace lasted through March.

Murphy presents one moving story after another from documented sources such as letters, diaries, regimental files and soldier’s snapshots of the events. This alone would make for fascinating reading but Murphy does much more. With exquisite clarity, he explains the complicated events and missed opportunities that lead up to the war, describes the initial stages of the fighting and the horrific conditions of trench warfare. So many of our teens are victims of the NCLB drive-by style study of history, and they spend little if any time studying this time period. I think the intriguing subject of Truce will attract readers who cannot help but be fascinated and informed by Murphy’s compelling writing. Churchill’s question frames Murphy’s exploration and it is that question as it applies so clearly to our own time, that will stay with readers.

Cindy: The format of this book, large type face and abundant illustrations and photographs, suits it nicely to a young reader, but it is a worthy purchase for older students and adults, especially those who don’t know about the Christmas Day truce on the battlefield. Arresting photos of German soldiers singing carols in the trenches, and of German and British officers and soldiers mingling in no-man’s land lend credibility to a hard to believe story. I first learned of the truce years ago from folk singer John McCutcheon at the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival. His song, “Christmas in the Trenches” relates the story of the Christmas Day truce and ends with the haunting line that these men knew all too well after spending time with each other, “and on each end of the rifle we’re the same.” christmas-in-the-trenchesHe later turned his song into a picture book of the same name: Christmas in the Trenches (Peachtree, 2006) with oil painting illustrations by Henri Sorensen. The book also includes a cd with McCutcheon’s song and other audio including a bilingual version of Silent Night/Stille Nacht like that which the men came together to sing that peaceful night.

Like Lynn, I had no idea that the truce happened in more than one place down the front, or that the individual truces lasted weeks and sometimes months. The idea that soldiers trained to obey without thought could wage a prolonged strike in fighting–against orders–makes this story all the more miraculous.

nonfictionmonday1Thanks to the blog In Need of Chocolate for hosting this week’s Nonfiction Monday round-up.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy"

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  1. sarneal@mac.com' Sarah N. says:

    Thanks for linking to the round up. This book sounds fascinating. I used to teach World History and I always told the story of the Christmas truce to my students and played a recording of soldiers singing Silent Night.

  2. I like you have heard the story many times about the Christmas truce…but in one place. This is fascinating and even more so is the tidbit the truce lasted quite a while in some places. I look forward to reading this book, thanks for choosing to post it!

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