Hello again readers
This evening December 24th and indeed tomorrow marks a quite remarkable 100 year old anniversary. Exactly one hundred years ago something started to happen on Christmas Eve 1914 on the Western Front – an unbroken line of trenches that ran all the way from the coast of Belgium right to Switzerland. World War One had been raging in France and Belgium since August 4th 1914 when German forces invaded. The Pope had proposed a truce for Christmas but it seemed unlikely. Then something wonderful began to happen. In most places the guns fell silent, the sniping stopped. Suddenly, all was calm……..what happened next has gone down in history.
I decided to do some research and quickly found some interesting contemporary accounts in the Times newspaper
The Times, London, Friday Jan 01 1915.
An officer in the RFA wrote,
“On Christmas Eve things were very much as usual; it was a glorious afternoon and several aeroplanes were up and duly shot at by the Germans. About 6 o’clock things went positively dead; there was not a sound. Even our own pet sniper went off duty. We sat around a fire all evening, and about 11 o’clock a very excited infantry officer told us that all the fighting was off, and the men were fraternising in between the trenches. We had seen lights flashing on the parapets earlier in the evening.and there had been a good deal of noise going on. Shouts from the Germans “You English, why don’t you come out?” It had been agreed that there should be no firing until midnight Christmas Day. We went back to bed about 12.30 and stood to arms as usual on Christmas morning. I arranged to go down the trenches after breakfast, as they have a place where they are only about 70-80 yards apart. Finally we all walked out and one of their officers came out to meet us. We all saluted, shook hands and exchanged cigarettes. They got a man out of the trenches who had lived for some time in America and he acted as translator. The Germans were all for the truce lasting for 48 hours, but we stuck out for midnight on Christmas Eve. Then we had lunch, pheasant and partridge, plum pudding and pate de foie gras, washed down by rum and hot water………..”
A major in the Leicestershire Regiment wrote on Christmas Day,
“Even out here there is a time of peace and goodwill. I’ve just spent an hour talking to the German officers and men, who have drawn a line half-way between our left trenches and theirs and have met their men and officers there. We exchanged cigars, cigarettes and papers. They are jolly, cheery fellows for the most part and it seems so silly under the circumstances to be fighting them. Firing has practically stopped. Last night a select band of officers and men sang carols to them and they did ditto.”
A major in the R.A.M.C wrote on Christmas Day,
“This has been a strange Christmas! All has been peaceful except for some occasional sniping on our right. The most extraordinary scenes took place took place between the trenches. In front of our bit our men and Germans got out of their trenches and stayed there for some time, being entertained by the enemy. All joined together in a sing song, each side taking it in turn to sing a song, and finally they ended up with “God Save the King”. The Regiment actually had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2! The Saxons and our people opposite have arranged a sing song for tonight, having mutually agreed not to re-open hostilities before midnight.”
A member of the London Rifle Brigade wrote,
“We had rather an interesting time in the trenches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was agreed in our part of the firing line that there should be no firing and no thought of war on Christmas Eve and Day so they sang and played to us several of their own tunes and some of ours such as “Home, Sweet Home” and “Tipperary” while we did the same for them. The singing and playing went on all night and the next day our fellows paid a visit to the German trenches and they did likewise. Cigarettes, cigars and addresses were exchanged. On Christmas Eve the Germans burned coloured lights and candles along the top of their trenches and on Christmas Day a football match was played between them and us in front of the trenches. I have now a very different opinion of the Germans.”
One hundred years later there is some cynicism about the truth of these accounts, most particularly about the football matches. The cynics point out that a game could not be played on no-man’s land in between the barbed wires. Other cynics ask where all the leather footballs came from? There are however account that do back-up the stories. “Balls” were in some cases bully beef tins or a ball or rags. The “football match” was more likely a riotous kick-about which lasted a short time only. There is rarely smoke without fire and something amazing did happen 100 years ago this Christmas. For a very short time enemies became friends, exchanged gifts, shared food and drink and sang carols to each other. For a very short time the spirit of Christmas came to a war zone and there really was peace on earth and goodwill to men in more than a few places on the Western Front. Sadly it could not last and hostilities soon resumed.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 was never repeated in the first World War and nothing like it has ever happened since. Christmas 1914 was truly special, a time when ordinary men put aside not only their differences but rules and regulations that governed their daily lives. One hundred years later we could all do well to reflect on these events. For my part I will be thinking about my great uncle who fought on the Western Front and was there in 1914 and may have witnessed such scenes. It is a story you simply could not make up. It is one of the most amazing but true Christmas stories…..
This is blogger and Indie writer and researcher Mike Sheridan signing off for Christmas 2014. Peace on earth, goodwill to all men ( and women) and I wish you all the best Christmas ever!
References – all text in italics from the Times newspaper, image is from Wikipedia