The mythology of the Christmas truce of 1914 between the British and the Germans echoes through the history and horror of World War I. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Well, it still held good when we left on Boxing Day morning, as not a shot was fired-quite a change, no lead flying about. The Christmas Truce of 1914 has been dramatized in numerous ways, from the 2005 feature film Joyeux Noël to the music video for Paul McCartney’s 1983 song, “Pipes of Peace.” Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man's Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco, alcohol and souvenirs, such as buttons and hats. Presently, a Sergeant Collins stood waist high above the trench, waving a box of Woodbines above his head. In the week leading up to 25 December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. 194–195; Brown (2005) p. 75. Nevertheless, that day Leutnant Walther Stennes, of the German 16th Infantry Regiment, noticed a distinct change in the tempo of the war: On Christmas Eve at noon fire ceased completely. Furthermore, she finds that truce participants describe the temporary ceasefires not as rebellions by disaffected troops but as acts of humanity and survival by professional soldiers deeply committed to their respective causes. [31] Similar stories have been told over the years, often naming units or the score. As the water froze in the trenches around their feet, the troops seemed to have little or nothing to look forward to. The British responded by singing carols of their own. Richard Schirrmann: The first youth hosteller: A biographical sketch by Graham Heath (1962, International Youth Hostel Association, Copenhagen, in English). The artillery in the region fell silent. 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. 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. In some areas it was just Christmas Eve or Christmas Day itself. In fact, one of them wanted to know what on earth we were doing here fighting them." A sort of unarranged and quite unauthorized but perfectly understood and scrupulously observed truce exists between us and our friends in front. It is 11 o'clock in the morning. [80], Soldiers from both sides (the British and the Germans) exchange cheerful conversation (An artist's impression from. Here and there, showing just above their parapet, we could see very faintly what looked like very small colored lights.…We were very suspicious and were discussing this strange move of the enemy, when something even stranger happened. [16], Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the informal cessations of hostility along the Western Front. [56], In an adjacent sector, a short truce to bury the dead between the lines led to repercussions; a company commander, Sir Iain Colquhoun of the Scots Guards, was court-martialled for defying standing orders to the contrary. From a German soldier. The truce begins with the guns falling silent on Christmas Eve, a solitary German soldier singing 'Stille Nacht' and the British soldiers joining in with 'Silent Night' from their trenches. German soldiers beckoned him over, and Collins got out and walked halfway toward them, in turn beckoning someone to come and take the gift. 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. When I rushed out of the dugout, I found many of my company standing in the open, waving and saying, “Merry Christmas!” On the other side some Indians were standing up and waving! It was ironic that several much-loved “British” Yuletide customs, including Christmas trees and colored lights, had been imported from Germany during the Victorian era through the influence of Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Suddenly a shot rang out, and the poor sergeant staggered back into the trench, shot through the chest. Furthermore, she finds that truce participants describe the temporary ceasefires not as rebellions by disaffected troops but as acts of humanity and survival by professional soldiers deeply committed to their respective causes. Although such friendly overtures and resulting fraternization in no man’s land were not universal, there is no doubt a fair proportion of the British battalions in the front line, particularly in III and IV Corps areas, were involved to some degree. 1980. I am telling you this but don't speak of it to anyone. There were several reports of trees being erected in the German front lines to brighten up the dark, miserable night. Victor Chapman, Eugene Jacobs, and Phil Rader were in the trenches that day. Originally published in the January 2015 issue of Military History. [50][51], An account 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. Kreisler, Fritz. [59] 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. But it wasn’t a single truce negotiated by diplomats at the highest levels of the governments involved. 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". Most historians refer to this event as the Christmas Truce of 1914. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. The Germans fell back to the Aisne valley, where they dug in. One such was Lieutenant Sir Edward Hulse, of the 2nd Scots Guards: By 8 a.m. there was no shooting at all, except for a few shots on our left. 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. The Christmas Truce showed that given the choice, people do not want to be out fighting and killing each other. [5] He asked "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang", which was refused by both sides. Had anyone really believed it would be “all over by Christmas,” then it was clear they had been cruelly mistaken. On December 24 there was a severe frost, and it began to snow in some places. Were they really the monstrous creations of propaganda or just ordinary soldiers like themselves? 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. Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, "England v Germany: when rivals staged beautiful game on the Somme", "Remembering a Victory For Human Kindness – WWI's Puzzling, Poignant Christmas Truce", http://www.gwpda.org/memoir/Kreisler/Kreisler.htm, "Bullets & Billets by Bruce Bairnsfather", "Peace on the Western Front, Goodwill in No Man's Land – The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce", "Truce in the trenches was real, but football tales are a shot in the dark", "First World War.com – Feature Articles – The Christmas Truce", "La tregua di Natale 1914: echi e riflessi in Italia", "Bertie Felstead The last known survivor of no-man's-land football died on July 22, 2001 aged 106", "How Christmas Truce led to court martial", Folk singer brings 'Christmas in the Trenches' show to Seattle, Tim Keough, Seattle Times, 12 Dec 2014, "Blackadder Goes Forth. [25], General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the II Corps, issued orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops. In the lead-up to Christmas 1914 soldiers on either side of the Western Front no man’s land set aside fear and their weapons to exchange surreal holiday greetings. What were their foes really like? Truce came about in this way. It is incredibly damaging to most participants in war to face the task of killing their fellow man. Private Ronald Mackinnon letter from the truce of 1916. Accessed 23 January 2018. 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. The Germans placed candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. Even amidst war, faith can be a bridge between enemies.” Individuals would get out of the trench, then dive back in, gradually becoming bolder. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked! HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines. [24], A 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". Only four months later, in April 1915, the Christmas truce site of Ypres in Flanders [in Belgium] became the place of the first poison gas attack. As they pondered, strange sights and sounds emanated from the German trenches, as Private William Quinton, of the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment, noted: Something in the direction of the German lines caused us to rub our eyes and look again. The "greatest surprises" quote is from the, Brown (2005) pp. Peter Hart. the truce, eventually releasing orders preventing its continuation or reoccurrence but taking no steps to punish any of the men who took part in it. [2], Before Christmas 1914, there were several peace initiatives. [27][28], On the Yser Front where German and Belgian troops faced each other in December 1914, a truce was arranged at the request of Belgian soldiers who wished to send letters back to their families, over the German-occupied parts of Belgium. [10] By 1 December, a British soldier could record a friendly visit from a German sergeant one morning "to see how we were getting on". In some sectors there was no doubting the underlying friendly intent, and soon there were fraternal demonstrations from both sides. A Christmas truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, on 11 November 2008. [21], Captain Sir Edward Hulse reported how the first interpreter he met from the German lines was from Suffolk and had left his girlfriend and a 3.5 hp motorcycle. Suddenly no man’s land was covered with Indian and German soldiers. 75–76. Although we are not clean they are disgustingly filthy. Ashworth, Tony. For Captain Charles Stockwell, of the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the truce ended early on Boxing Day, and the transition was handled with a consummate courtesy. [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. But anyhow everybody’s awake, no one is sleeping, and the sentries are still on duty. Weintraub talks of a Saxon smoking a pipe in no man’s land that one British officer took to be an official gift from German 5 Army commander Crown Prince Wilhelm. So one or two fellows jumped out on top …others followed, and there were scores of us on top at the finish.…We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top—just to keep warm of course.…Some Germans came to their wire with a newspaper; they were waving it. In the pipe is tobacco. 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. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Sir Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, essayist (The Advancement of Learning). It came to nothing, as the brigade commander threatened repercussions for lack of discipline and insisted on a resumption of firing in the afternoon. [34][35] Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th Saxon Infantry Regiment said that the English "brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. Not a shot was fired all night. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. By 8 January pictures had made their way to the press and the Mirror and Sketch printed front-page photographs of British and German troops mingling and singing between the lines. [31] One recent writer has identified 29 reports of football, though does not give substantive details. [6][7], Fraternisation—peaceful and sometimes friendly interactions between opposing forces—was a regular feature in quiet sectors of the Western Front. Perhaps a gesture of friendship, but equally possible was a sudden deadly attack to capitalize on the kind of lethargy identified by Smith-Dorrien. He founded the German Youth Hostel Association in 1919. One of his men bravely lifted his head above the parapet and others from both sides walked onto no man's land. Such behavior attracted the attention of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien—commander of the British Expeditionary Force’s II Corps—who issued orders to try and eradicate such relaxed practices: Experience of this and every other war proves undoubtedly that troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a “live and let live” theory of life. Despite the plentiful supply of official and personal contemporary documentation that exists relating to the Christmas Truce, there is no definitive evidence to substantiate claims that an organised match, with scores recorded, took place between British and German troops. These often began with agreement not to attack each other at tea, meal or washing times. 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