On Christmas Day1914 the guns fell silent on no mans land. English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish Soldiers emerged from their trenches to meet the German enemy to shake hands and exchange gifts. Despite that only hours previously they had been involved in a vicious and unrelenting exchange of bullets, they engaged in an improvised and good humoured football match on the battlefields, Germany V Great Britain. Germany it is rumoured won 3 – 2.
Did it happen? And why?
It certainly is backed by lots of eye witness testimony. Private Mullard of the London Rifle Brigade wrote home, "we heard a band in the German trenches, but our artillery spoilt the effect by dropping a couple of shells right in the centre of them." Despite this, he was surprised at sunset to see, "trees stuck on top of the [German] trenches, lit up with candles, and all of the men sitting on top of the trenches. So of course we got out of ours and passed a few remarks, inviting each other to come over and have a drink and a smoke, but we did not like to trust each other at first”
This impulse to celebrate the holiday season amid the landscape of war has been traced to several theories. Among these was the fact that the war was only four months old and the level of animosity between the ranks was not as high as it would be later in the war. This was complimented by sense of shared discomfort as the early trenches lacked amenities and were prone to flooding. Also, the landscape, aside from the newly dug trenches, still appeared relatively normal, with fields and intact villages all of which contributed to introducing a degree of civilization to the proceedings.
For the most part, the Christmas Truce only lasted for Christmas Eve and Day, though in some areas it was extended through Boxing Day and New Year's. As it ended, both sides decided on signals for the recommencement of hostilities. Reluctantly returning to war, the bonds forged at Christmas slowly eroded as units rotated out and the fighting became more ferocious. The truce had largely worked due to a mutual feeling that the war would be decided at another place and time, mostly likely by someone else. As the war went on, the events of Christmas 1914 became increasing surreal to those who had not been there.
100 years later and still the world is immersed in countless conflicts thankfully not on the scale of the World Wars, but none the less disturbing and damaging for many people frightened for themselves their families and their cultures. There are many ways to resolve conflict, and though you might argue that war is an inevitable consequence of many situations, this Christmas I hope we can all take time to look for other methods of resolving our differences.
To all of our readers may we take this opportunity to wish you all a peaceful and restful Christmas.
All the very best for 2015.
The Scotwork Team