Peace in the trenches

Christmas 1914, and it was already evident that World War I was a conflict the likes of which had never been seen before

Peace in the trenches (public domain_

The oft-quoted “It will all be over by Christmas” was dismissed as arrogant folly, but, for a brief spell, the war was over for Christmas.

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Confined to their trenches, soldiers showed signs of fraternisation before Christmas, from greetings to short-term ceasefires so the dead could be retrieved from ‘no man’s land’. Then late on Christmas Eve, the Germans decorated their trenches with small fir trees adorned with candles, and erupted into carol singing. The British returned with songs of their own until O Come All Ye Faithful began and voices were heard from both sides of the battlefield.

The next day, both British ‘Tommies’ and the Germans – or ‘Jerry’ – clambered out of their trenches to meet their enemy. Jokes were shared, gifts of food, cigarettes and buttons were exchanged, and impromptu football matches broke out, some of which used ration tins as balls.

The unofficial peace wasn’t observed everywhere – some parts of the Western Front saw fighting and shelling throughout 25 December.

But for a short while, humanity won out against horror and violence. A British soldier later recollected:“I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything”.

AFTERMATH

The Christmas truce was not sanctioned by the leadership, but was rather a spontaneous surge of peace that came from the soldiers on the front line. Attempts had been made, including by the Pope, for an official Christmas ceasefire but they had all failed.

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The military authorities weren’t all that happy with the fraternisation between enemy troops. Attempts were made to hush up the truce and dangerous raids were ordered on the trenches to get the two sides fighting again. It wasn’t until 8 January 1915 that news of the Christmas truce hit the papers.