On this day in 1914, the guns fell silent in certain sections of the Western Front, on the eve of Christmas. German and Allied soldiers put down their weapons and met in no-man’s land to collect the dead, exchange gifts and mingle with their fellow brothers-in-arms.
No official truce existed between the Germans and the Allies during the holiday season, however spontaneous truces broke out throughout the Western Front. One should note that a truce was not observed everywhere, as some sections of the front continued to fight through Christmas. The first reported truce occurred near the Belgian town of Ypres, where German troops lit up Christmas trees with candles and started singing Christmas carols (no doubt O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht were in the repertoire). Hearing the Germans singing from across no-man’s land, British troops began singing themselves. Soon enough, both German and British soldiers emerged from their trenches and met in no-man’s land, exchanging gifts such as food, cigarettes and liquor. The lull in the fighting also gave the chance for both sides to collect the dead and hold burial services, sometimes jointly between the Germans and Allies. This unofficial ceasefire occurred throughout the Western Front and lasted through Christmas night, and in some cases, till New Year’s Day. Truces of this nature were also seen between the French and the Germans, and between the Austrians and Russians.
Future Christmas truces rarely happened after 1914. Military leaders were largely aghast at the demonstration of fraternization and camaraderie exhibited between the two sides during the 1914 Christmas truce, and officially discouraged future holiday truces. Consequently, artillery bombardments were ordered throughout Christmas Eve to ensure a ceasefire did not occur. Troop units were also rotated through the front to avoid units from becoming too acquainted with the enemy. Nevertheless, in 1914 the First World War failed to get in the way of troops on both sides from putting down their weapons, even if only for a day, to express their Christmas spirit.
One of the more famous stories from the Christmas truce of 1914 were the impromptu football (soccer) matches that broke out. A well-known account of a football match is that between the Cheshire Regiment and a Saxon Regiment, after a British soldier pulled out a leather ball from the trenches and began kicking it around. Germans joined along with the British soldiers, and using helmets as goal posts, a game started (final score was apparently 3-2 for the Germans). In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War next year, football organizations from both nations have began organizing to re-enact these football matches at the battlefields of France and Belgium next year.
- WWI truce match to be recreated (bbc.co.uk)
- Christmas In The Trenches (historythrutheages.wordpress.com)
- The Christmas truce (theweek.com)
- Unauthorized Xmas Truce 1914 – WWI (torontonews.wordpress.com)
- Premier League Donates Pitch to Honour World War I Christmas-Truce Football Match (ftbpro.com)