29 December 2011

Belleau Wood - Garth Brooks

While I love most types of music, I've never been a big fan of country, or at least not "old-school" country.  I do like some of the crossover artists, though, or occasionally I'll like a particular song from a country artist, even if the artist himself or herself is not high on my list.  Such is the case here.  Garth Brooks is okay; he's not my favorite but I do like a couple of his songs, especially this one.  I would love the lyrics regardless, but I'm a sucker for a song with a real story behind it.

Belleau Wood is a section of land in Picardy, France, near the Marne River; in 1918 it was part of the Western Front in World War I and the site of a nasty battle between the Germans and the US Marines, which ultimately the Marines won, though not before sustaining nearly 10,000 casualties and taking 1,600 Germans prisoner.  Though well-known for this battle, Belleau Wood has become far more famous for the Christmas Truce of 1914, largely because of Brooks' song. 

Long before the US joined the war or before Belleau Wood, British and German Soldiers had fallen back to the area to maintain defensive positions after the first Battle of the Marne.  In the months leading up to Christmas 1914, there were several largely unsuccessful attempts at establishing peace initiatives, most notably by Pope Benedict XV who, on December 7, 1914 (apparently December 7 has an even longer history of unusual things occurring than most people realize) begged the opposing governments "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang" (Harrisondaily.com), a request which was refused.

In spite of the unsuccessful attempts at securing peace, some 100,000 British and German troops ceased hostilities in an "unofficial" truce carried up and down the Western Front, beginning on Christmas Eve of 1914, when the German soldiers began lighting candles along their trenches and singing Christmas carols.  The British responded by singing their own carols, and before long both sides were hesitantly meeting in No Man's Land to exchange small gifts of food or tobacco and to exchange souvenirs such as hats or coat buttons.  Wounded and slain soldiers from both sides were retrieved during the unspoken truce, after which a joint burial service was held.  Afterwards, many of the soldiers from both sides engaged in a friendly game of football in the middle of No Man's Land.  No artillery was heard the whole night.

The Christmas Truce at Belleau Wood lasted throughout the night, though at other spots along the front the truce lasted longer, even up to New Year's Day in some places.  The British commanders were furious over the truce and demanded that all troops cease friendly relations at once; a young German corporal named Adolph Hitler is also said (unsurprisingly) to have disapproved of the truce.

Co-written by Joe Henry, Brooks' song "Belleau Woods" was released 1n 1997 on his album Sevens.  Though not a big Brooks' fan as I said, I still purchased the CD years ago (before iTunes was readily available)--just for this song, which beautifully commemorates the Christmas Truce. 

The lyrics are as follows: 

Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared
By both sides of the fight
As we lay there in our trenches
The silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing
A song that we all knew

Though I did not know the language
The song was "Silent Night"

Then I heard my buddy whisper,
"All is calm and all is bright"
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me
'Cause I'd die if I was wrong
But I stood up in my trench
And I began to sing along

Then across the frozen battlefield
Another's voice joined in
Until one by one each man became
A singer of the hymn

Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
'Neath the falling flakes of white
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say
Here's hoping we both live
To see us find a better way

Then the devil's clock struck midnight
And the skies lit up again
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again

But for just one fleeting moment
The answer seemed so clear
Heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's just beyond the fear

No, heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's for us to find it here

I hope all of you had a peaceful holiday of your choice, and that this peace continues to carry you through to New Year's and into 2012 before the dogs of war (or at least life) are once again let loose.

Sources:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Belleau_Wood

1 comment:

  1. I love this song, and each time I ear alone, I can fell my eyes getting web.

    As a 51 years old frenchman, with a granny born in 1917 in Picardie, I still fell fear this spell soldiers from both side went throught...

    If someday you come to France, you will read upon each church the long list of the young men who died during these four years. Incredible....