This is a story of how Christmas managed to bring enemies together as friends for a time.
How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each others throats immediately afterwards? (quoted from Private Heath’s letter)
On the Christmas Eve of 1914, in the middle of fierce battle, the British and German troop stood face to face in trenches divided by “No Man’s Land”. Soon their hands went out and tightened in the grip of friendship. That night, not a shot was made. All is calm. Violating order, soldiers from both sides put down their weapon, sang Christmas carols together, exchanged gifts and helped bury each other’s dead. It was the most memorable Christmas Eve in history.
Christmas truce memorial. mage via Wikipedia
Cessation of hostilities on Christmas Eve and Christmas day during the war is known as “Christmas truce”. The event occurred in 1914 between the British and German stationed along the dreaded Western Front was the first to occur during World War I.
Situation in the trenches. Image via Wikipedia
The war had been going on for one year and nearly a million had died. The trenches were poorly constructed and in bad winter weather of 1914, it were flooded and turned into mud holes. The soldiers wallowed in freezing mud and decaying bodies. They were miserable and can help but feeling sympathy for each other. As Christmas approached, they started remembering the warmth of their home and love of families. The desire for a break in the fighting increased as well as the festive mood. This finally gave way for temporary peace. After all, Christmas is a season of goodwill.
24 December 1914
British and German troops met in No-Man’s land. Image credit
The moment started when the German troops began singing O Stille Nacht (Silent Night) after they finished decorating their so-called Christmas tree and placing candles on the edge of their trenches. The British troop on the other side of the trenches responded by singing English carols. Applause was heard from both sides. The two sides then began exchanging Christmas greetings. The German soon called the British as “comrade”.
Signs were put out , “you no shoot, we no shoot” . So the party was up. The soldiers met in “no man’s land” to shake hands and drank together. Whisky, jams, chocolate were exchanged. That night, the artillery fell silent.
25 December 1914
It was a foggy cold Christmas morning. Songs continuously were sung. With Christmas spirit on the air, the soldiers were running about on top of the trenches instead of keeping their head down in it. Invitations were made once again to visit the “no man’s land”. The land soon became a playground. The parties played football. The German won 3-2.Exchange of gifts continued afterwards. Balaclavas, hats, buttons, tunics, smokes and autographs were exchanged. Soldiers who had been barbers before the war gave free haircut. A German juggler gave an impromptu. Many British and German were chatting in no-man’s land. Cigarettes were offered and photographs of family members were shown. Bodies of recently-fallen solders brought back behind their lines for proper burials. Some of the British helped the German bury a sniper.
Veterans of World War met in the 2008 celebration of Christmas truce. Image credit
At night, each troop returned to the trenches to have dinner. Private Heath, in his letter said jokingly that :“…the gift of gifts was Christmas pudding. The sight of it made the Germans’ eyes grow wide with hungry wonder, and at the first bite of it they were our friends for ever. Given a sufficient quantity of Christmas puddings, every German in the trenches before ours would have surrendered”
With dinner served, came the end of the peace of Christmas truce. The following day, as recorded by Captain Dunn, the medical officer in the Royal Welsh Fusilier, at 8.30, the British fired three shots in the air and put up a “Merry Christmas” flag. The German responded by put up a sheet that said “thank you”. Both the British and the German captains bowed and saluted each other, then both went down to their respective trenches and the war officially began again.
With this weird situation, many soldiers started thinking and hoping that the war will be over in no time. But who knows, the war stretched out for four more years and claimed the life of more than 16 millions soldier and civilian.