The Christmas truce – 1914

24 Dec

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Christmas Truce 1914As World War I raged on in the trenches of Europe in 1914, Christmas Eve arrived cold and bleak. But German soldiers put up Christmas trees decorated with candles, on the parapets of their trenches. Although their enemies, the British soldiers, could see the lights, it took them a few minutes to figure out where they were from. Could this be a trick?

British soldiers were ordered not to fire, but to watch closely. Instead of trickery, however, the British soldiers heard the Germans singing carols and celebrating. One young soldier wrote home about this remarkable event:   

“Time and again during the course of that day, the Eve of Christmas, there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a German were to be heard shouting out lustily, ‘A happy Christmas to you, Englishmen!’ Only too glad to show that the sentiments were reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider, ‘Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o’er eat yourself wi’ they sausages!’

“They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang ‘The First Noël’, and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, ‘O Tannenbaum’.

“And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols, and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words ‘Adeste Fidéles’. And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

In many separate instances up and down the front line, German soldiers began yelling over to their enemy, “Tommy, you come over and see us!” Still cautious, the British soldiers would rally back, “No, you come here!”

In some parts of the line, representatives of each side would meet in the middle, in No Man’s Land.

“What a sight – little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness, we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Where they couldn’t talk the language, they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!”

Some of those who went out to meet the enemy in the middle of No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day negotiated a truce:

“We won’t fire if you won’t fire”.

One reason that the Christmas truce was negotiated was in order to bury the dead, many of whom had been there for several months. Along with the revelry that celebrated Christmas was the sad and sombre job of burying their fallen comrades. On Christmas day, British and German soldiers appeared on No Man’s Land and sorted through the bodies.

The soldiers talked, shared family pictures, exchanged items such as buttons for food. A remarkable example of the fraternization was a soccer game played in the middle of No Man’s Land between the Bedfordshire Regiment and German soldiers. A member of the Bedfordshire Regiment produced a ball and the large group of soldiers played until the ball was deflated when it hit a barbed wire entanglement.

The strange and unofficial truce lasted for several days. This amazing show of Christmas cheer was never again repeated.

“Nothing is worth more than this day.” – Goethe

Originally published here at Heart Sisters on December 24, 2009

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17 Responses to “The Christmas truce – 1914”

  1. Kit Filan December 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Such a touching story, truly heart warming, that really conveys what people are capable of in the spirit of Christmas. Now the challenge is to extend that state of mind to the rest of the year!

    Thanks Carolyn for reminding us.

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas December 24, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      That’s what’s so inspiring about this story isn’t it? That even in the hell that is trench warfare, people are capable of stopping the killing – even if for just one day. It makes you believe that anything is possible. Enjoy your holiday season, Kit!

      Like

  2. Barbara Bronson Gray December 24, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Thank you Carolyn. Merry Christmas!

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas December 24, 2013 at 9:34 am #

      And Merry Christmas to you and your family as well, Barbara!

      Like

  3. helensamia December 24, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    Very touching story… So sad they had to fight some more later..
    Wishing you a happy festive season and a blessed new year. 🎄🎅🎄🎅

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas December 24, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      Thanks so much, Helen, and Happy Christmas to you, too. Do you know the song “Christmas In The Trenches“? The lyrics allude to the insanity of resuming combat after that truce:
      “Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
      With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
      But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
      Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

      Like

      • helensamia December 24, 2013 at 9:36 am #

        It shows what an insanity war is… My grandfather fought in the Second World War … He would never speak about it .. I have his medals and some are still in their posting package unopened.. No good memories…

        Like

  4. Kathleen December 24, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    One of my favorite stories from history – brings tears to my eyes (I’m known to cry at what is hopeful.)

    Like

  5. Sunny December 24, 2013 at 7:31 am #

    I forgot to add that it was nice to re-read this true story of a war time miracle!

    Like

  6. Sunny December 24, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    I’d like a truce with our son who has had nothing to do with us for 4 years since his dad’s stroke. No clue what he is holding against us…. a truce would be a wonderful Christmas present!

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas December 24, 2013 at 7:32 am #

      It would indeed, Sunny. If the Brits and Germans could do it during combat, there’s still hope for you, too.

      Like

    • Dr. Barbara Keddy December 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

      Oh how sad Sunny: I can’t think of anything worse than a child not speaking to parents who love them so much, as I imagine you do yours. This is the worst season of all when family dynamics can rear their ugly heads! We expect so much from one month of the year.

      The war story is magnificent – one I have always loved – but men continue to wage wars and women pick up the pieces. I wish for you that your son would no longer wage war against you and your husband.

      Happy new year.

      Like

  7. Sharon December 24, 2013 at 7:09 am #

    I remember reading this here in 2009… it touched my heart then and touches it still. It is the true essence of Christmas. Thank you for sharing it again.

    A blessed holiday season to you and yours.

    Like

  8. Bonnie Winters December 24, 2013 at 5:01 am #

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow declare a truce – even for a day – with these Microvascular Disease symptoms?!

    Like

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