The air is still and cold, the ground frozen solid. Amidst the morning fog on the 25th December 1914 a young man climbs out of his trench not to charge the enemy, but to shake his hand.
This is the image that has been so wonderfully captured in a recent television advert. The Christmas Truce was a truly fantastic moment in this country’s – and humanity’s – cultural memory. So why does watching it make me feel so uneasy?
The writing is brilliant, the acting steady and believable and the cinematography beguiling. I challenge any human being to watch it in its entirety and not be moved by its sentiment. Two sides brought together by common good in the peace of Christmas, despite all their differences.
What an advert this would be for the good in all men! For the senselessness of war, especially one such as WW1. Unfortunately, it’s an advert for a supermarket.
The Christmas Truce is a remarkable moment in history: where men who had hours before been trying to kill each other realised the stupidity of what they were being forced to do – realised that those just 200 yards away from them were human beings and not worthy of hate or death. To use that to sell frozen vegetables and milk seems, well, emotionally manipulative.
True, you’re not thinking about your Nectar Points as you watch, but there is something unsettling about the camera panning away from the trenches, two (remarkably clean and handsome) soldiers dwelling on their shared gifts, and the orange Sainsbury’s logo pushing its way in.
Perhaps I have grown too cynical; after all, the advert was sponsored and aided by the Royal British Legion. However, no matter how many £1 bars of special chocolate bars it might sell, I can’t help but smell the stink of commercialisation, even if it wafts in after my initial pride and sorrow at remembering what those young men had to endure.
Yes, in this year, the centenary of the Great War, we should remember those who fell in one of the most senseless and bloody conflicts in human history. In that I commend Sainsbury’s for reminding the country of the good will to all men that should exist around the holidays.
It does seem, however, that everything is becoming fair game in the war to make customers emotional, in the salient hope that reminding them of the tragedy of millions of war dead will somehow convince them to snap up more Christmas puddings.