In the week leading up to the holiday, French, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs.
There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behaviour was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.
The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting fraternisation.
Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the incorporation of poison gas.
Truces between British and German units can be dated to early November 1914, around the time opposing armies had begun static trench warfare. At this time, both sides’ rations were brought up to the front line after dusk, and soldiers on both sides noted a period of peace while they collected their food.
By 1 December, a British soldier could record a friendly visit from a German sergeant one morning “to see how we were getting on”. Relations between French and German units were generally more tense, but the same phenomenon began to emerge. In early December, a German surgeon recorded a regular half-hourly truce each evening to recover dead soldiers for burial, during which French and German soldiers exchanged newspapers.
Future nature writer Henry Williamson, then a nineteen-year-old private in the London Rifle Brigade, wrote to his mother on Boxing Day:
“Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco.
Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Ha ha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?”
There are two significant moments which turned me against offensive war, though I was military for a time and also subscribed to blitzkrieg – moderation in war is imbecility. I’m talking, as you realize, about even going over there to fight the wars of our poncy betters.
1. If all three nations are Christian nations, if our cultures are European, including our festivities then why the hell are we even fighting? For what? Germany is Germany and good luck to them, France stops around Alsace-Lorraine and there’s a channel between France and us. Just stick to your territory and no one need get killed.
2. Ah, but these bastards above don’t want that, do they, they want us culled, don’t they? And I don’t mean the service chiefs necessarily but the pollies ordering them. More particularly, since I’ve had the internet – those animals driving the whole thing from behind closed doors. These are the ones I want taken down.
I’m no pacifist, should the EU army reach our shores, I’ll be into town next morning signing up with Dad’s Army. And I’ll shoot to kill those with the temerity to come into our land in hostility. I’ve already tried to join – in 2008 I went to our nearest recruitment centre – there were phone calls and then they had the nerve to tell me I was too old. So yes, of course I’ll help defend our land.
However, I’m not signing up for some Masonic tosser’s idea that he disagrees with some other Masonic tosser in France or Germany over some stupid point or other. No. Way. Known. Not for them, not for royalty, not for the aristocracy in any way, shape or form bar one – if they invade us.
And keep your eyes open for the White Feather women too and their labelling.
Lastly, don’t know about you but every Christmas we used to get Slade and Jona Lewie but this year, I’ve not heard them. So, here’s Jona Lewie and compliments of the season t’y’all:
[Photos, as far as I can tell, are from Alamy, Wiki, the Independent and the Telegraph]