The Christmas Truce of 1914
Peace in the trenches during the Great War
Christmas Eve 1914 found the German, French and English armies in the beginning of trench warfare. The colossal Battle of the Marne had led to the geography of the Western Front that would continue to hold with slight changes through the next years of the war. Soldiers who had thought they would be home for Christmas realized that the war was going to be a long bloody haul.
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Christmas Eve 1914 found the German, French and English armies in the beginning of trench warfare.
The colossal Battle of the Marne had led to the geography of the Western Front that would continue to hold with slight changes through the next years of the war. Soldiers who had thought they would be home for Christmas realized that the war was going to be a long bloody haul.
A. C. Michael
Christmas Truce 1914
The Illustrated London News's illustration of the Christmas Truce: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches" The subcaption reads "Saxons and Anglo-Saxons fraternising on the field of battle at the season of peace and goodwill: Officers and men from the German and British trenches meet and greet one another—A German officer photographing a group of foes and friends."
Live And Let Live
As the lines stabilized, the front-line soldiers adopted a live and let live philosophy.
Throughout December fraternization between the sides happened sporadically as soldiers would meet to bury the dead and even exchange cigarettes. The coming of Christmas intensified these feelings that transcended the war if only for a few moments.
The weather was chilly and slightly overcast. Lights appeared along the German lines, and British troops heard singing. The British soldiers recognized Stille Nacht (Silent Night), and responded with carols of their own. Some soldiers applauded the singing from the other side. Soon packets of food were lobbed over the battlefield into opposing trenches.
Image by Redvers, Public Domain
Lest We Forget
A cross, left in Saint-Yves (Saint-Yvon - Ploegsteert; Comines-Warneton in Belgium) in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce. The text reads: "1914 – The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget"
That Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at scattered places along the lines solitary soldiers clambered out under truce flags.
Soon clusters of soldiers from both sides appeared and met in no man’s land.
Captain Charles Stockwell participated in one such gathering. He heard Germans say, Don’t shoot. We want to send you some beer. He met a German officer, Count Something or Other, who seemed to Stockwell a very decent chap. The soldiers on both sides cheered. Soldiers exchanged food, drinks, and souvenirs.
Robson Harold B, Collection of the Imperial War Museum, Public Domain
British and German troops meeting in No-Mans's Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector).
Honor The Dead
In many places where the unofficial truce took place soldiers gathered the dead who had been left in no man’s land.
They honored their dead together, reading the 23rd Psalm in their various languages. Depending on which history of the Christmas Truce you read, there may have been as many as four soccer matches between men of the two sides—although some reports in 2014 question whether the soccer games were more a matter of mythology than historical fact.
One story, often repeated about the truce, claims that a ration tin was used in place of a soccer ball. Another account says a British barber gave German soldiers haircuts.
Soldiers of the 5th London Rifle Brigade with German Saxon regimental troops during the truce at Ploegsteert
An estimated 100,000 German, British and some French participated in these informal truces.
In one place along the front on December 26th one British officer fired into the air and raised a flag that said Merry Christmas. A German officer stood up with a flag that said Thank you. They bowed to each other, then resumed the war.
In 1915 the high commands of both sides strongly discouraged fraternizing with the enemy. A few informal Christmas truces were held, but not as extensive as in 1914. Artillery barrages, which were stilled in 1914, were used to discourage truces. By 1916 gas warfare and tanks had been introduced. The brutality of the fighting was so horrific that nobody would risk informal truces again during the war.
The Christmas Truce of 1914
Marvelous, Isn't It?
Bruce Bairnsfather, a British solider who participated in the Christmas Truce said, I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.
Henry Williamson, who later became a writer but was a 19-year old private at the time, wrote his mother while smoking a pipe of German tobacco: Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvelous, isn’t it?