In the Winter of 1914 one of the strangest events of the whole war took place. The story of the Christmas Truce soon took hold in the popular imagination and has come to represent the triumph of sanity and Christmas goodwill over the madness of trench warfare. The reality however is much more complicated, and therefore more human, than the popular image of a football match in no-man's-land.
By Christmas 1914 the realities of modern warfare had become apparent to both sides. The machine gun and high explosives had ground the war into a cold wet morass of mud and trenches. For the men of both side this was not the war they had envisaged when they signed up in a wave of patriotic fervour. But optimism was still high, the long bloody battles of the first world war were largely ahead of them and both sides were awaiting what they thought would be the decisive campaigns of the fighting season in the new year. Both sides had also received extra rations and treats from home, parcels from the Red Cross, King George V and the Kaiser containing chocolates, Christmas pudding, cigarettes and cigars. The Germans had even received miniature Christmas trees - Tannenbaum - decorated with candles and strung along the parapets of the trenches.
Its not surprising therefore that the men of both sides - who shared the same hardships - should have called for an unofficial truce. The 'Brass Hats' back in HQ (in a Chateau, 27 miles behind the lines!) did not approve of fraternisation and issued stern warnings to their officers against such conduct. In reality many officers at the front turned a blind eye as their men sang carols such as Stille Nact (Silent Night) and exchanged shouted greetings from trench to trench. Soon men were calling for a ceasefire culminating in face to face meetings in no-man's-land.
In some areas the ceasefire was an opportunity to recover the recently killed and burials were organised where former enemies mourned the fallen of both sides. With so much extra food available from the Christmas parcels the soldiers had received, it was not long before gifts of Jam, Cigarettes, Whisky and Chocolate were exchanged. There was even a famous game of football (reported in the letter of an officer of the Medical Corp, published in the London Times on 1st January) in which the British were beaten 3-2.In some sectors the truce lasted through to Boxing day and even on to New Years Day. The fact was that a lasting peace could not have developed from this unofficial ceasefire. The appetite for war was still high on both sides back at home and overtures for peace by Pope Benedict XV were roundly denounced by the British and French authorities.
The war resumed and ground on for another 4 years eventually claiming the lives of 9.7 Million service men of both sides [Source]. Although the Christmas truce has become somewhat romanticised over the years it still stands out as a brief moment of sanity in the midst of a black period of history.
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