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Christmas truce

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Soldiers from both sides(the French and the Germans)exchange cheerful conversation
An artist's impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"
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"
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"

The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914.

The Christmas truce occurred during the relatively early period of the war (month 5 of 51). Hostilities had entered somewhat of a lull as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to the 25th, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man's land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another,[1] giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behaviour was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.

The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting truces. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the use of poison gas.

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and reflected a mood of "live and let live", where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there would be occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in full view of the enemy. The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.

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  • ✪ WW1 Christmas Truce: Silent Night - Extra History - #1
  • ✪ Christmas Truce (1914)
  • ✪ A Sign Of Friendship In The Midst Of War I THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE 1914
  • ✪ Alternate History: What If The Christmas Truce Ended WWI?
  • ✪ The 1914 Christmas Truce


Christmas Eve, 1914. The war was supposed to be over by now. This holiday special is brought to you by World of Tanks. Use the invite code "ARMISTICE" if you are new player who wants to check out the game. The Christmas Truce is one of the most poignant events of the First World War. A time when men rose above the madness of the conflict and, for just a moment, saw each other as fellow humans. This is an event that definitely DID happen. Thousands of men laid down arms in the truce, but a century of retellings has also kinda sanded down its rough edges and oversimplified its messy reality. Indeed, this event wasn’t just the result of pure human spirit and holiday cheer. It was a host of unique factors that drove these enemies to spontaneously declare peace in no man’s land. And really, it may not have been all that spontaneous. Small armistices were happening every day. As frontline troops became accustomed to the rhythms of trench warfare, they learned that looking the other way now and then could bring a shred of safety and calm to their lives. The armies ate meals at the same time, which became a daily ceasefire. Patrols frequently ignored each other, adopting a live-and-let-live attitude. Troops often shouted to each other across the lines. After all, the Autumn battles had passed, and both sides were waiting out the winter. In reality, the weather was the primary enemy for both sides. The high water table at Flanders meant that the trenches were always filling with water, sometimes collapsing and burying men inside. Soldiers leaned against the walls to sleep, trying to keep themselves out of the wet. Food supplies had to be hung up on dugout ceilings. And that winter had been particularly miserable. Weeks of rain flooded the dugouts. The mud pulled men down like quicksand. Now, British Field Marshal Sir John French had noticed the hands-off attitude his men were developing toward the enemy, and so he ordered attacks in late December to boost morale. This resulted in heavy British losses. Concerned about possible fraternization over the holiday, he issued orders that no unofficial armistice would be tolerated. Morale was much better over in the German trenches. After all, they were winning, but many men were also experiencing their first holiday away from home. Knowing this would be difficult, commanders brought Christmas to the trenches, shipping thousands of presents to the field. Each man received a gift from the Kaiser, cigar boxes for NCOs, a pipe with the crown prince on it for the ranks. The British, for their part, received a brass box from Princess Mary filled with cigarettes, tobacco, a Christmas card, and sweets. And then there were personal packages. Enterprises sprang up on the home front, offering family members a chance to send gift boxes to the troops. British soldiers received plum puddings and thousand-count boxes of cigarettes. German and Austrian troops were bombarded with chocolate, salami, and cognac. Both sides received winter clothing. In truth, though? The gifts were kind of a nuisance. I mean, there was nowhere to put it all. Soldiers had nowhere to store a thousand extra cigarettes. But that Christmas Eve delivered a true gift: the rain stopped and the trenches drained. Dry cold froze the mud into a hard surface, almost like a floor. Snow dusted the countryside. That afternoon, the gunfire dwindled, and in some sectors it stopped entirely. The weather just seemed too nice for it. The Germans, stuffed with Christmas chocolate and cheered by the weather, started putting lit tannenbaum on their trench parapets. And then, the German line started singing. Over on the British parapets, watchmen of the Scots Guards saw lines of lights along the enemy trench. At first, they suspected an attack. But then, they heard an ethereal sound drifting across no man’s land: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. The original, Austrian version of Silent Night. Sensing a challenge, Guards officer Lieutenant Sir Edward Hulse decided they should drown this out with their own carol. The sides went back and forth, but soon, the competition merged into a harmony of Good King Wenceslaus and Auld Lang Syne. Men began shouting Christmas greetings across the line, jokingly, at first. A few even stepped out to talk. Hulse didn’t know it, but the same thing was happening up and down the entire British line. Agreements formed. In some sectors, the officers met at the wire and shook hands, agreeing to cease hostilities the next day. In other areas, the ranks took the lead, Germans shouting across no man’s land, “English! Tomorrow if you no shoot, we no shoot!” At times, it was just one brave soul, walking into no man’s land waving a newspaper. These overtures were extremely dangerous. Though peace was breaking out in certain areas, it didn’t happen everywhere. One British regiment responded to German carolling with a machine gun blast. Some unarmed soldiers were gunned down trying to broker this holiday armistice. But in most sectors, the ceasefire held. This truce mostly happened between German and British units. The French and the Belgians, whose countries were under German occupation, were... less inclined. There were agreements to bury the dead and cease hostilities, but not as much fraternization. Yet a Bavarian unit held fire during a French mass, and both sides halted fighting long enough for a guest, a soloist from the Paris opera, to make a performance. British Indian troops, who were unfamiliar with this whole “Christmas” deal, saw the lit German trees and thought of their own holiday of Diwali. They held fire but also held position... until some Germans tempted them out of the trench with cigars and cigarettes. Soon, the men were smoking together on the parapet. That Christmas night, the troops slept in sublime quiet. Christmas Day dawned bright and cold, the sky clear for the first time in weeks. To their shock, British troops looked across no man’s land to see the Germans walking around on their parapets. Such a thing was suicidal in daylight, and that gesture of trust, more than anything, lured a few British out. It was heaven to at last stand up straight and walk on solid earth. Some had ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve, but in daylight, it was impossible to ignore the bodies lying between the trenches. The two sides buried their dead in common graves, grieving side-by-side in joint services, listening to the faraway sounds of battle from other sectors. And that shared experience broke down the wall. Soldiers milled about together in no man’s land, swapping overabundant gifts from home. British beef for uniform buttons. Chocolate cake for barrels of beer. They exchanged hats. One German barber gave haircuts. The men chatted. After all, they shared so much in common. They’d lived in the same fields under the same rain, and were equally sick of war. Besides, they were curious. What was life like on the other side? Who were these enemies? One British officer was perplexed to learn that his new German friend believed the armies of the Kaiser fought for freedom. That was impossible, the officer responded, we’re fighting for freedom. Amid this, Lieutenant Hulse found himself talking to Lieutenant Thomas of the 15th Westphalians, who had something to pass on: a Victoria Cross and a packet of letters. An English officer had died in the German trench during the last attack. Perhaps he could give these to the man’s family? Touched, Hulse removed his own silk scarf, a gift from home, and presented it in thanks. Thomas, embarrassed that he had nothing to give in return, sent a soldier to fetch the fur gloves his family had sent. Up and down the line, men started bringing out footballs. Kickabouts broke out, with men from both sides chasing the ball among shell holes and sliding on the frozen ground. In one sector, a group of Highlanders challenged a Saxon regiment, who burst out laughing whenever a kilt flew up during play. But not all this activity was goodwill. On both sides, a few used the gatherings to reconnoiter enemy trenches, and both sides used the time to repair dugouts. Of course, for some, this fraternization appeared false. One British soldier flashed his squadmate a hidden dagger, while another refused to smoke German cigarettes, fearing they might be poisoned. When one squad of Bavarians discussed whether to meet the British, their corporal snapped at them. “Such a thing should not happen in wartime." "Have you no German sense of honour left at all?” They weren’t surprised. The night before, this same soldier had refused to join the unit’s Christmas service. Corporal Hitler was odd like that. But his disapproval reflected the generals’ view. This was exactly the situation that Field Marshal French had feared. Commanders dispatched senior officers to threaten disciplinary action and insist the men restart the war. In some sectors, the armistice came to an orderly close. Officers from both sides saluted and fired revolvers into the air, signaling that the war was back on. In a few places, troops resisted until nearly to New Year’s Eve. But the generals would not have it. German command dispatched snipers to break the ceasefire. French ordered an artillery barrage, letting the machinery of war roll over the human connections of the frontline troops. Nothing like this Christmas Truce would happen again. The generals wouldn’t allow it. On Christmas Eve, 1915, British officers ordered a 24-hour artillery barrage. Men who tried to form a truce were court-martialed. Machine guns drowned out German carols. The generals needn’t have bothered. The spirit of that truce was unique to 1914, a symptom of a young war. By Christmas 1915, those troops had experienced chlorine gas, and creeping bombardments. Zeppelins were bombing London. The Battle of Verdun would end just before the holiday, leaving 750,000 casualties. Indeed, many of the men who celebrated in no man’s land that day would never see another Christmas. One of those unlucky ones was Lieutenant Sir Edward Hulse, who had sung carols and given a German officer his silk scarf. He died three months later while trying save a wounded comrade. He was 25. Yet, Hulse is not remembered today for his military achievements, or even the book of letters his friends published after his death. He, and so many others, are remembered for a victory entirely their own, when a group of brave men ventured into the line of fire, trusting their enemies not to shoot, and believing that humanity was better than the bonfire it had built for itself. Happy Holidays, everybody.



During the first five months of World War I, the German attack through Belgium into France had been repelled outside Paris by French and British troops at the Battle of the Marne in early September 1914. The Germans fell back to the Aisne valley, where they prepared defensive positions. In the subsequent Battle of the Aisne, the Allied forces were unable to push through the German line, and the fighting quickly degenerated into a stalemate; neither side was willing to give ground, and both started to develop fortified systems of trenches. To the north, on the right of the German army, there had been no defined front line, and both sides quickly began to try to use this gap to outflank one another. In the ensuing "Race to the Sea", the two sides repeatedly clashed, each trying to push forward and threaten the end of the other's line. After several months of fighting, during which the British forces were withdrawn from the Aisne and sent north into Flanders, the northern flank had developed into a similar stalemate. By November, there was a continuous front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier, occupied on both sides by armies in prepared defensive positions.[2]

In the lead up to Christmas 1914, there were several peace initiatives. The Open Christmas Letter was a public message for peace addressed "To the Women of Germany and Austria", signed by a group of 101 British women suffragettes at the end of 1914 as the first Christmas of World War I approached.[3][4] Pope Benedict XV, on 7 December 1914, had begged for an official truce between the warring governments.[5] He asked "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."[6] This attempt was officially rebuffed.[7]


Fraternisation—peaceful and sometimes friendly interactions between opposing forces—was a regular feature in quiet front-line sectors of the Western Front. In some areas, it manifested as a passive inactivity, where both sides would refrain from overtly aggressive or threatening behaviour, while in other cases it extended to regular conversation or even visits from one trench to another.[8]

Truces between British and German units can be dated to early November 1914, around the time opposing armies had begun static trench warfare. At this time, both sides' rations were brought up to the front line after dusk, and soldiers on both sides noted a period of peace while they collected their food.[9] By 1 December, a British soldier could record a friendly visit from a German sergeant one morning "to see how we were getting on".[10] Relations between French and German units were generally more tense, but the same phenomenon began to emerge. In early December, a German surgeon recorded a regular half-hourly truce each evening to recover dead soldiers for burial, during which French and German soldiers exchanged newspapers.[11] This behaviour was often challenged by junior and senior officers; the young Charles de Gaulle wrote on 7 December of the "lamentable" desire of French infantrymen to leave the enemy in peace, while the commander of 10th Army, Victor d'Urbal, wrote of the "unfortunate consequences" when men "become familiar with their neighbours opposite".[11] Other truces could be enforced on both sides by weather conditions, especially when trench lines flooded in low-lying areas,[11] though these often lasted after the weather had cleared.[12] On the Eastern Front, Fritz Kreisler reported incidents of spontaneous truces and fraternisation between the Austro-Hungarians and Russians in the first few weeks of the war.[13]

The proximity of trench lines made it easy for soldiers to shout greetings to each other, and this may have been the most common method of arranging informal truces during 1914.[14] Men would frequently exchange news or greetings, helped by a common language; many German soldiers had lived in England, particularly London, and were familiar with the language and the culture. Several British soldiers recorded instances of Germans asking about news from the football leagues, while other conversations could be as banal as discussions of the weather or as plaintive as messages for a sweetheart.[15] One unusual phenomenon that grew in intensity was music; in peaceful sectors, it was not uncommon for units to sing in the evenings, sometimes deliberately with an eye towards entertaining or gently taunting their opposite numbers. This shaded gently into more festive activity; in early December, Sir Edward Hulse of the Scots Guards wrote that he was planning to organise a concert party for Christmas Day, which would "give the enemy every conceivable form of song in harmony" in response to frequent choruses of Deutschland Über Alles.[16]

Christmas 1914

British and German troops meeting in no man's land during the unofficial truce (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector)
British and German troops meeting in no man's land during the unofficial truce (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector)

Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the unofficial cessations of hostility along the Western Front.[17] The first truce started on Christmas Eve 1914, when German troops decorated the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium and particularly in Saint-Yvon (called Saint-Yves, in Plugstreet/Ploegsteert – Comines-Warneton), where Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather described the truce.[18]

The Germans placed candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man's Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, continuing until New Year's Day in others.[7]

On Christmas Day, Brigadier-General Walter Congreve, then commanding 18 Infantry Brigade, stationed near Neuve Chapelle, wrote a letter recalling the Germans initiated by calling a truce for the day. One of his brigade's men bravely lifted his head above the parapet and others from both sides walked onto no man's land. Officers and men shook hands and exchanged cigarettes and cigars, one of his captains "smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army", the latter no more than 18 years old. Congreve admitted he was reluctant to personally witness the scene of the truce for fear he would be a prime target for German snipers.[19]

Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote:

I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.... I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons.... I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange.... The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.[20][21]

Future nature writer Henry Williamson, then a nineteen-year-old private in the London Rifle Brigade, wrote to his mother on Boxing Day:

Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o'clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a 'dug-out' (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. 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. Marvellous, isn't it?[22]

Captain Sir Edward Hulse reported how the first interpreter he met from the German lines was from Suffolk where he had left his girlfriend and a 3.5 hp motorcycle. Hulse went on to describe a sing-song which "ended up with 'Auld lang syne' which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Württenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!"[23]

Captain Robert Patrick Miles, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, who was attached to the Royal Irish Rifles recalled in an edited letter that was published in both the Daily Mail and the Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News in January 1915, following his death in action on 30 December 1914:

Friday (Christmas Day). We are having the most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable. A sort of unarranged and quite unauthorized but perfectly understood and scrupulously observed truce exists between us and our friends in front. The funny thing is it only seems to exist in this part of the battle line – on our right and left we can all hear them firing away as cheerfully as ever. The thing started last night – a bitter cold night, with white frost – soon after dusk when the Germans started shouting 'Merry Christmas, Englishmen' to us. Of course our fellows shouted back and presently large numbers of both sides had left their trenches, unarmed, and met in the debatable, shot-riddled, no man's land between the lines. Here the agreement – all on their own – came to be made that we should not fire at each other until after midnight tonight. The men were all fraternizing in the middle (we naturally did not allow them too close to our line) and swapped cigarettes and lies in the utmost good fellowship. Not a shot was fired all night.

Of the Germans he wrote: "They are distinctly bored with the war.... In fact, one of them wanted to know what on earth we were doing here fighting them." The truce in that sector continued into Boxing Day; he commented about the Germans, "The beggars simply disregard all our warnings to get down from off their parapet, so things are at a deadlock. We can't shoot them in cold blood.... I cannot see how we can get them to return to business."[24]

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (24 and 25 December) 1914, Alfred Anderson's unit of the 1st/5th Battalion of the Black Watch was billeted in a farmhouse away from the front line. In a later interview (2003), Anderson, the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war, vividly recalled Christmas Day and said:

I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted 'Merry Christmas', even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.[25]

Nor were the observations confined to the British. German Lieutenant Johannes Niemann wrote: "grabbed my binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy."[26]

General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, issued orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops.[17] Adolf Hitler, then a young corporal of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry, was also an opponent of the truce.[17]

In the Comines sector of the front there was an early fraternization between German and French soldiers in December 1914, during a short truce,[27] and there are at least two other testimonials, from French soldiers, of similar behaviours in sectors where German and French companies opposed each other. Gervais Morillon wrote to his parents: 'The Boches waved a white flag and shouted "Kamarades, Kamarades, rendez-vous." When we didn't move they came towards us unarmed, led by an officer. Although we are not clean they are disgustingly filthy. I am telling you this but don't speak of it to anyone. We must not mention it even to other soldiers.' Gustave Berthier wrote: 'On Christmas Day the Boches made a sign showing they wished to speak to us. They said they didn't want to shoot. ... They were tired of making war, they were married like me, they didn't have any differences with the French but with the English.'[28][29]

In sections of the front where German and Belgian troops faced each other in December 1914, there was at least one such instance when a truce was achieved at the request of Belgian soldiers who wished to send letters back to their families, over the German-occupied parts of their own country.[30]

Richard Schirrmann, who was in a German regiment holding a position on the Bernhardstein, one of the mountains of the Vosges, wrote an account of events in December 1915: "When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines... something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over." He was separated from the French troops by a narrow No Man's Land and described the landscape as: "Strewn with shattered trees, the ground ploughed up by shellfire, a wilderness of earth, tree-roots and tattered uniforms." Military discipline was soon restored, but Schirrmann pondered over the incident, and whether "thoughtful young people of all countries could be provided with suitable meeting places where they could get to know each other." He went on to found the German Youth Hostel Association in 1919.[31]

Football matches

Many accounts of the battle involve one or more football matches played in no-man's land. This was mentioned in some of the earliest reports, with a letter written by a doctor attached to the Rifle Brigade, published in The Times on 1 January 1915, reported "a football match... played between them and us in front of the trench".[32] A wide range of similar stories have been told over the years, often naming specific units or a precise score. Some accounts of the game bring in elements of fiction by Robert Graves, a British poet and writer (and an officer on the front at the time)[33] who reconstructed the encounter in a story published in 1962; in Graves's version, the score was 3–2 to the Germans.[32]

However, the truth of the accounts has been disputed by some historians; in 1984, Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton concluded that there were probably attempts to play organised matches which failed due to the state of the ground, but that the contemporary reports were either hearsay or refer to "kick-about" matches with "made-up footballs" such as a bully-beef tin.[34] Chris Baker, former chairman of The Western Front Association and author of The Truce: The Day the War Stopped[35] is also sceptical, but says that although there is little hard evidence, the most likely place that an organised match could have taken place was near the village of Messines: "There are two references to a game being played on the British side, but nothing from the Germans. If somebody one day found a letter from a German soldier who was in that area, then we would have something credible."[36] In fact, there is a German reference. Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch of Germany's 134th Saxons Infantry Regiment said that the English "brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was".[37] In 2011, Mike Dash concluded that "there is plenty of evidence that football was played that Christmas Day—mostly by men of the same nationality, but in at least three or four places between troops from the opposing armies".[32]

A wide variety of units were reported in contemporary accounts to have taken part in games; Dash listed the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment pitched against "Scottish troops"; the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders against unidentified Germans (with the Scots reported to have won 4–1); the Royal Field Artillery against "Prussians and Hanovers" near Ypres; and the Lancashire Fusiliers, based near Le Touquet, with the specific detail of a bully beef ration tin as the "ball".[32] One recent writer has identified 29 separate reports of football, though does not give substantive details.[38] Colonel J. E. B. Seely recorded in his diary for Christmas Day that he had been "Invited to football match between Saxons and English on New Year's Day", but this does not appear to have taken place.[39]

Eastern Front

A separate manifestation of the Christmas truce in December 1914 occurred on the Eastern front, where the first move originated from the Austro-Hungarian commanders, at some uncertain level of the military hierarchy. The Russians responded positively and soldiers eventually met in no man's land.[40]

Public awareness

The events of the truce were not reported for a week, in an unofficial press embargo which was eventually broken by The New York Times, published in the then-neutral United States, on 31 December. The British papers quickly followed, printing numerous first-hand accounts from soldiers in the field, taken from letters home to their families, and editorials on "one of the greatest surprises of a surprising war". By 8 January pictures had made their way to the press, and both the Mirror and Sketch printed front-page photographs of British and German troops mingling and singing between the lines. The tone of the reporting was strongly positive, with the Times endorsing the "lack of malice" felt by both sides and the Mirror regretting that the "absurdity and the tragedy" would begin again.[41]

Coverage in Germany was more muted, with some newspapers strongly criticising those who had taken part, and no pictures published. In France, meanwhile, the greater level of press censorship ensured that the only word that spread of the truce came from soldiers at the front or first-hand accounts told by wounded men in hospitals.[42] The press was eventually forced to respond to the growing rumours by reprinting a government notice that fraternising with the enemy constituted treason, and in early January an official statement on the truce was published, claiming it had happened on restricted sectors of the British front, and amounted to little more than an exchange of songs which quickly degenerated into shooting.[43]

The press of then-neutral Italy published a few articles on the events of the truce, usually reporting the articles of the foreign press.[44] On 30 December 1914, Corriere della Sera printed a report about a fraternization between the opposing trenches.[45] The Florentine newspaper La Nazione published a first-hand account about a football match played in the no man's land.[46] In Italy, the lack of interest in the truce probably depended on the occurrence of other events, such as the Italian occupation of Vlorë, the debut of the Garibaldi Legion on the front of the Argonne and, finally, the earthquake in Avezzano.

Later truces

British and German troops burying the bodies of those killed in the attack of 18 December.
British and German troops burying the bodies of those killed in the attack of 18 December.

After Christmas 1914, sporadic attempts were made at seasonal truces; a German unit attempted to leave their trenches under a flag of truce on Easter Sunday 1915, but were warned off by the British opposite them, and later in the year, in November, a Saxon unit briefly fraternised with a Liverpool battalion. In December 1915, there were explicit orders by the Allied commanders to forestall any repeat of the previous Christmas truce. Individual units were encouraged to mount raids and harass the enemy line, whilst communicating with the enemy was discouraged by artillery barrages along the front line throughout the day. The prohibition was not completely effective, however, and a small number of brief truces occurred.[47][48]

An eyewitness account of one truce, by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, recorded that after a night of exchanging carols, dawn on Christmas Day saw a "rush of men from both sides... [and] a feverish exchange of souvenirs" before the men were quickly called back by their officers, with offers to hold a ceasefire for the day and to play a football match. It came to nothing, as the brigade commander threatened repercussions for the lack of discipline, and insisted on a resumption of firing in the afternoon.[49] Nevertheless, another member of Griffith's battalion, Bertie Felstead, later recalled that one man had produced a football, resulting in "a free-for-all; there could have been 50 on each side", before they were ordered back.[50][51] Another unnamed participant reported in a letter home: "The Germans seem to be very nice chaps, and said they were awfully sick of the war."[52] In the evening, according to Robert Keating, another eyewitness, "The Germans were sending up star lights and singing – they stopped, so we cheered them & we began singing Land of Hope and GloryMen of Harlech et cetera – we stopped and they cheered us. So we went on till the early hours of the morning."[53]

In an adjacent sector, a short truce to bury the dead between the lines led to official repercussions; a company commander, Sir Iain Colquhoun of the Scots Guards, was court-martialled for defying standing orders to the contrary. While he was found guilty and reprimanded, the punishment was annulled by General Haig and Colquhoun remained in his position; the official leniency may perhaps have been because his wife's uncle was H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister.[54][55]

In the Decembers of 1916 and 1917, German overtures to the British for truces were recorded without any success.[56] In some French sectors, singing and an exchange of thrown gifts was occasionally recorded, though these may simply have reflected a seasonal extension of the live-and-let-live approach common in the trenches.[57]

At Easter 1915 there were recorded instances of truces between Orthodox troops of opposing sides on the Eastern front. The Bulgarian writer Yordan Yovkov, serving as an officer near the Greek border at the Mesta river, witnessed one such truce. It inspired his short story "Holy Night", translated into English in 2013 by Krastu Banaev.[58]

Legacy and historical significance

British and German descendants of Great War veterans
British and German descendants of Great War veterans

Although the popular tendency has been to see the December 1914 Christmas Truces as unique and therefore of romantic rather than political significance, they have also been interpreted as part of the widespread non-co-operation with the war spirit and conduct by serving soldiers.[59] In his book on trench warfare, historian Tony Ashworth describes what he calls the 'live and let live system'. Complicated local truces and agreements not to fire at each other were developed by men along the front throughout the war. These often began with agreement not to attack each other at tea, meal or washing times, and in some places became so developed that whole sections of the front would see few casualties for extended periods of time. This system, Ashworth argues, 'gave soldiers some control over the conditions of their existence.'[60] The December 1914 Christmas Truces then can be seen as not unique, but as the most dramatic example of non-co-operation with the war spirit that included refusal to fight, unofficial truces, mutinies, strikes, and peace protests.

  • In the 1933 play Petermann schließt Frieden oder Das Gleichnis vom deutschen Opfer (Petermann makes peace: or, the parable of German sacrifice), written by Nazi writer and World War I veteran Heinz Steguweit (in German), a German soldier, accompanied by Christmas carols sung by his comrades, erects an illuminated Christmas tree between the trenches, but is shot dead by the enemy. Later, when the fellow soldiers find his body, they notice in horror that enemy snipers have shot down every single Christmas light from the tree.[61]
  • The 1967 song "Snoopy's Christmas" by the Royal Guardsmen was based on the Christmas truce. It is the Red Baron, Germany's ace pilot and war hero, who initiates the truce with the fictitious Snoopy.
  • The 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War includes a scene of a Christmas truce with British and German soldiers sharing jokes, alcohol and songs.
  • The video for the 1983 song "Pipes of Peace" by Paul McCartney depicts a fictionalised version of the Christmas truce.[62]
  • John McCutcheon's 1984 song, Christmas in the Trenches, tells the story of the 1914 truce through the eyes of a fictional soldier.[63] Performing the song he met German veterans of the truce.[64]
  • The final episode of the BBC television series Blackadder Goes Forth references the Christmas truce, with the main character Edmund Blackadder having played in a football match. He is also seen being annoyed at having had a goal disallowed for offside.[65]
  • The song "All Together Now" by Liverpool band The Farm took its inspiration from the Christmas Day Truce of 1914. The song has been re-recorded by The Peace Collective for release in December 2014 to mark the centenary of the event.[66]
  • The 1997 song "Belleau Wood" by American country music artist Garth Brooks is a fictional account based on the Christmas truce.
  • The truce is dramatised in the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël (English: Merry Christmas), depicted through the eyes of French, British and German soldiers.[67] The film, written and directed by Christian Carion,[68] was screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.[69]
  • In 2008, the truce was depicted on stage at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, in the radio musical drama All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. It was created and directed by Peter Rothstein, and co-produced by Theater Latté Da and the vocal ensemble Cantus, both Minneapolis-based organisations. It has continued to play at the Pantages Theater each December since its premiere.
  • On November 12, 2011, the opera "Silent Night", commissioned by the Minnesota Opera, had its world premiere at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. With libretto by Mark Campbell, based on the screenplay of the film "Joyeux Noel", and with music by Kevin Puts, it won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and has been performed or scheduled for more than 20 productions around the world as of 2018's 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
  • Ahead of the centenary of the truce (December 2014), English composer Chris Eaton and singer Abby Scott produced the song, 1914 – The Carol of Christmas, to benefit British armed forces charities. At 5 December 2014, it had reached top of the iTunes Christmas chart.[70]
  • In 2014, the Northumbria and Newcastle Universities Martin Luther King Peace Committee[71] produced resources to enable schools and churches to mark the December 1914 Christmas Truces. These included lesson plans, hand-outs, worksheets, PowerPoint slide shows, and full plans for assemblies, and carol services/Christmas productions. The authors explained that their purpose was both to enable schoolteachers to help children learn about the remarkable events of December 1914, but also to use the theme of Christmas to provide a counterpoint to the UK government's glorification of the First World War as heroic. As the Peace Committee argues, "These spontaneous acts of festive goodwill directly contradicted orders from high command, and offered an evocative and hopeful – albeit brief – recognition of shared humanity"[72] – and thereby, they argue, give a rereading of the traditional Christmas message of "on earth peace, good will toward men."[73]
  • The grocery chain Sainsbury's produced a short film for the 2014 Christmas season as an advertisement re-enacting the events of the Christmas truce, primarily following a young English soldier in the trenches.[74][75]
  • In the Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special "Twice Upon a Time", the First and Twelfth Doctors become unwittingly involved in the fate of a British captain who is seemingly destined to die in a confrontation in No Man's Land before he is taken out of time, only for the Twelfth Doctor to bend the rules and return the captain — revealed to be a relative of his friend and ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart — to a point a couple of hours after he was taken out of time. This slight bending of the rules results in the captain being returned to history at the beginning of the Christmas truce, allowing the captain to live and request aid for his would-be killer, the Twelfth Doctor musing that such a truce was the only time such a thing happened in history but it never hurts to ensure that there will be a couple of fewer dead people on a battlefield.


Football Remembers memorial, designed by Spencer Turner, at the National Memorial Arboretum
Football Remembers memorial, designed by Spencer Turner, at the National Memorial Arboretum

A Christmas truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, on 11 November 2008. Also on that day, at the spot where, on Christmas Day 1914, their regimental ancestors came out from their trenches to play football, men from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers played a football match with the German Battalion 371. The Germans won 2–1.[76]

On 12 December 2014, a memorial was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and the England national football team manager Roy Hodgson.[77] The Football Remembers memorial was designed by a ten-year-old schoolboy, Spencer Turner, after a UK-wide competition.[77]

Annual re-enactments

The Midway Village in Rockford, Illinois has hosted re-enactments of the Christmas Truce.[78]


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  8. ^ Ashworth (2000), pp. 18–20
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  10. ^ Ashworth (2000), p. 22.
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  25. ^ Interview from 2003 Archived 17 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine, originally published in The Scotsman, 25 June 2003, under the headline "Scotland's Oldest Man turns 107", by John Innes.
  26. ^ Reagan, p. 111
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  28. ^ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War, Max Hastings. William Collins 2013. ("Twenty-year-old Gervais Morillon wrote to his parents: 'The Boches waved a white flag and shouted "Kamarades, Kamarades, rendez-vous." When we didn't move they came towards us unarmed, led by an officer. Although we are not clean they are disgustingly filthy. I am telling you this but don't speak of it to anyone. We must not mention it even to other soldiers.' Morillon was killed in 1915.")
  29. ^ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War, Max Hastings. William Collins 2013. ("Elsewhere twenty-five-year-old Gustave Berthier wrote: 'On Christmas day the Boches made a sign showing they wished to speak to us. They said they didn't want to shoot.... They were tired of making war, they were married like me, they didn't have any differences with the French but with the English.' Berthier perished in June 1917.")
  30. ^ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War, Max Hastings. William Collins 2013. ("Belgians likewise clambered out of their positions near Dixmude and spoke across the Yser canal to Germans whom they persuaded to post cards to their families in occupied territory. Some German officers appeared, and asked to see a Belgian field chaplain. The invaders then offered him a communion vessel found by their men during the battle for Dixmude, which was placed in a burlap bag attached to a rope tossed across the waterway. The Belgians pulled it to their own bank with suitable expressions of gratitude.")
  31. ^ Richard Schirrmann: The first youth hosteller: A biographical sketch by Graham Heath (1962, International Youth Hostel Association, Copenhagen, in English).
  32. ^ a b c d Mike Dash. "Peace on the Western Front, Goodwill in No Man's Land — The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce".
  33. ^ Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That, 1929
  34. ^ Brown & Seaton, Christmas Truce (1984); pp. 136–139
  35. ^ Baker, C, The Truce: The Day the War Stopped, Amberley, 2014, ISBN 978-1445634906
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  40. ^ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War, Max Hastings. William Collins 2013. ("On Christmas Day in Galicia, Austrian troops were ordered not to fire unless provoked, and the Russians displayed the same restraint. Some of the besiegers of Przemyśl deposited three Christmas trees in no man's land with a polite accompanying note addressed to the enemy: 'We wish you, the heroes of Przemyśl, a Merry Christmas and hope that we can come to a peaceful agreement as soon as possible.' In no man's land, soldiers met and exchanged Austrian tobacco and schnapps for Russian bread and meat. When the Tsar's soldiers held their own seasonal festivities a few days later, Habsburg troops reciprocated.")
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  48. ^ Riley (2017)
  49. ^ Brown (2005) pp. 75–76. The unit in question was the 15th Royal Welch Fusiliers, a battalion of the volunteer New Armies, which were just arriving in France for the first time in late 1915 and early 1916. Griffith mentions Christmas Day was "the first time [he] had seen no-man's land"; his men were, quite possibly, also on their first tour in the front lines this day.
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  52. ^ Riley (2017), p. 722; quoting letter published in Wrexham Advertiser, 9 January 1915.
  53. ^ Riley (2017), p. 720
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  • Ashworth, Tony (2000). Trench Warfare 1914–1918: the live-and-let-live system. London: Pan. ISBN 0330480685.
  • Brown, Malcolm (2004). 1914: The Men Who Went to War. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-07323-3.
  • Brown, Malcolm; Seaton, Shirley (1984). Christmas Truce: The Western Front, 1914. New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0436071029.
  • Brown, Malcolm, ed. (2007). Meeting in No Man's Land: Christmas 1914 and Fraternization in the Great War. London: Constable. ISBN 978-1-84529-513-4. Originally published in French as Frères des Tranchées, 2005; containing:
    • Brown, Malcolm (2005). "The Christmas truce 1914: The British Story".
    • Cazals, Rémy (2005). "Good Neighbours".
    • Ferro, Marc (2005). "Russia: Fraternization and Revolution".
    • Mueller, Olaf (2005). "Brother Boche".
  • Dunn, Captain J. C. (1994). The War the Infantry Knew 1914–1919: A Chronicle of Service in France and Belgium. London: Abacus. ISBN 0-349-10635-5.
  • Riley, Jonathon (2017). "'Everyman's land': the second Christmas truce, 1915". Welsh History Review. 28 (4): 711–22.
  • Weintraub, Stanley (2001). Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas truce. London: Pocket. ISBN 0-684-86622-6.

Further reading

  • Blom Crocker, Terri (2015). The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813166155. OCLC 908071881.
  • Eksteins, Modris (2000). The Rites of Spring. New York, NY: Mariner Books. ISBN 9780395937587.
  • Michael, Jürgs (2005). Der kleine Frieden im Großen Krieg: Westfront 1914: als Deutsche, Franzosen und Briten gemeinsam Weihnachten feierten. München: Goldmann. ISBN 3442153034.
  • Riley, Jonathon (2017). "The second Christmas truce, 1915". Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. n.s. 23: 127–39.
  • Snow, Michael (2009). Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914. ISBN 9781616230807.

External links

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