Wednesday 24 December 2014

499M. The Christmas Truce.

  World War I - Christmas 1914: on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day British and German soldiers left their trenches and entered no man's land and exchanged Christmas greetings, food and souvenirs. They joined in carol singing and took the opportunity of the truce to bury their dead. For a few hours, one hundred years ago, war was paused and men shared a short peace. Famously, men from the opposing armies played football with each other as war was paused. The centenary of the Christmas Truce has been commemorated philatelically by The Isle Of Man as the subject of the £1.41p value of the set of 6 stamps issued on 19 Febrary 2014 which noted the centenary of the beginning of he First World War. Now Isle Of Man Stamps And Coins has issued 2 covers to commemorate the actual anniversary of the Truce which of course are purely philatelic in nature but nevertheless are interesting and commemorate marvellously those few brief hours of peace. The first of the two covers is depicted above and includes the Christmas Truce stamp cancelled on Christmas Eve by a red postmark in the style of the old Manx Christmas postmarks. I like the item very much and in an era when Christmas philatelic items are ten a penny it brings something special and meaningful to a collection of 2015 Commonwealth Christmas philatelic products:-

  A second cover - a philatelic/numismatic cover - has also been produced by Isle Of Man Stamps And Coins in a limited edition which combines the Manx Christmas Truce stamps, cancelled on Christmas Day itself, with 2 Deutsche Post Christmas Truce stamps cancelled at Berlin also on 25 December 2014. The coin mounted in the cover is an Isle Of Man 1 crown which also commemorates the Christmas Truce. I do not collect philatelic/numismatic covers (particularly limited editions sold for £35) but if I were an enthusiast for such items I would rush to make sure that I was one of the lucky 500 people to get my hands on one of these items:-

    Royal Mail issued a commemorative sheet on 11 November 2014 which noted the Christmas Truce and consisted of 10 poppy stamps and 10 attached labels showing scenes from the Truce. Sadly, although the face value of the stamps in the sheet is only £6.20p, the price of the item from Royal Mail is £14.95 - a mark up above face value of 240% -this seems more like exploitation of the memories of those men who were in the frozen trenches of Flanders at Christmas 1914 rather than a commemoration of their spirit.:-

  It is worth mentioning the Christmas Truce Memorial which was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on 12 December 2014. The memorial was designed by a 10 year old boy, Spencer Turner, and consists of two hands together in a handshake surrounded by the outline of a football:-

  I think that the Royal Mail Christmas stamps for 2014 are very lacklustre particularly when they are compared with the very beautiful set which was released in 2013. My favourite stamp of the 2013 set is the 88p value, depicted below, which is a detail of a painting by Jacques Louis David which is titled St. Roch Praying to The Virgin for an End to the Plague and which David painted in 1780. The detail depicted on the stamp is only a fraction of the whole painting as shown below though I suppose the whole painting really is not very Christmassy depicting, as it does, several plague victims with St. Roch, the Patron Saint of plague-sufferers kneeling before The Virgin and Child.

  I have something of a soft spot for St. Roch as he is also the Patron Saint of dogs and as a devoted dog owner the story of St. Roch is of great interest to me. Apparently St. Roch who was born in Montpeliar c.1348 was caring for plague victims in Piacenza in Italy when he contracted the illness himself. He was expelled from the town and found refuge in a forest where a dog came and supplied him with bread and licked his sores and healed them. The dog's owner, Count Gothard, discovered Roch's refuge and became a follower of Roch. Hence, after his canonisation, Roch was recognised not only as the Patron Saint of plague victims but also of dogs. The painting depicted below is by Guy Francois (c.1578 to 1650) and shows Roch with an angel, the sore on his thigh bandaged and the faithful dog at his feet.

  Even though St. Roch's dog does not appear on the Royal Mail 2013 Christmas stamp, at least one dog has been featured on British Christmas stamps - Gromit, the fictional friend of Wallace, who both appear in the Aardman films which recount their adventures. Both Gromit and Wallace were depicted on the 7 stamp set of the 2010 Royal Mail Christmas issue and the colourful and cheerful subject made for an excellent issue and put a smile on the face of anyone who received a Christmas card with one of the stamps stuck to the envelope (so much more cheerful than the 2014 issue):-

  Only in a stamp album could one's Christmas journey begin in the trenches of Flanders, travel via the story of St. Roch and his faithful dog and end up in the world of a cartoon dog and his master. Merry Christmas.

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