Sunday, 20 December 2015

1914: Christmas Truce

The story of the 1914 Christmas truce between German and British soldiers is a well known and heart warming tale that shows that even amongst the muck and bullets, the killing stopped for Christmas.
We may like to believe that for just one day, all across the front, men from both sides emerged from the trenches and met in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts and play football but first-hand testimonies tell us what really happened.
Along the Western Front, a scattered series of small-scale ceasefires did happen between some German and British forces but the festive reprieve was far from a mass event and for the vast majority December 25th 1914 was a day of war like any other.
There was always periods of 'quiet time' when soldiers would agree not to shoot at each other while they recovered wounded soldiers, bury the dead and shore up trenches. As both sides went about the grisly business, usually within shouting distance from each other, the soldiers would to banter and swap supplies for cigarettes.
During the pause to collect the dead on Christmas Day 1914, a carol singing competition erupted between some German and British soldiers and where it happened, enemy soldiers did indeed meet and spend Christmas together and exchange gifts and take photos.
Meanwhile, on most of the Western Front, bloody battles continued over the Christmas period and those that dared to come above the top were met with gunfire.
Reports and photographs of these small-scale unofficial ceasefires reached the papers back home and the military authorities who declared: 'Informal truces with the enemy were to cease and any officer or non-commissioned officer found to having initiated one would be tried by Court Martial with harsh punishment for any man caught refusing to fight'. 
The small truces of 1914 never happened again but the story was out there and has been retold, re-shaped and romanticised many times since.

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