The Christmas Truce

Christmas at the Front, 1914

Despite the stalemate, the war was initially fought in a ‘gentlemanly’ manner. For example, if one had to launch a bombardment, one would try to avoid mealtimes, when men would gather together, to limit the number of casualties. This attitude continued into the festive season, by which time, most had anticipated the war would already be over.

On Christmas Eve 1914, German troops began to celebrate as best they could. Some erected Christmas trees, and many sang traditional carols. The British soldiers responded with their own festive songs. Both sides began to tentatively communicate with one another – although in some places, this was simply to arrange to peacefully be permitted to retrieve dead bodies from No Man’s Land. By the following day, soldiers along almost half the British front line had agreed to an informal truce. In some cases, soldiers from both sides met in No Man’s Land and essentially, had a day off from the war. In one instance a German soldier later recalled a football match which had ended 3-2 to Germany. Some men exchanged food and cigarettes, others also took the opportunity to repair their wire entanglements and parapets, unhindered by enemy fire.

In some sectors, on the other hand, there was no fraternising whatsoever and some men later recalled that they simply found it impossible to socialise with those whom, tomorrow, they would be trying to kill. Equally, others could not bring themselves to forgive their enemy for recent deaths. Despite this, there was still a general decrease and even cessation of hostilities over the Christmas period.

The following year saw only a very few repetitions of these circumstances. Senior officers, in many cases, ordered bombardments to take place over Christmas, thus preventing any similar situations arising. Whether this was strictly necessary is debatable, considering that relations between opposing sides naturally deteriorated as the war progressed. Christmas 1914 offered a glimpse of the dying breath of the old century.