In the annals of warfare few incidents are more remarkable than the spontaneous truce between two hostile armies Christmas Day 1914 on the Western Front early in Europe’s “Great War”.
Initiated outside the chain of command by individual soldiers this incident had been largely mythic until the Internet archived details unavailable for most of the 20th Century.
As the troops had already suffered upwards of 1 Million Casualties after only four months of combat because the dreaded phalanx charge could not withstand the efficiency of modern firepower-primarily the machine gun- these men were already weary of a war that would stretch out for another four long years and invoke horrors unknown to the modern mind.
Enjoy the history presented here from various sources.
The New York Times
December 25, 2005
The Truce of Christmas, 1914
By THOMAS VINCIGUERRA
Rifleman Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade recalled how the mood spread:
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air! … First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up “O Come, All Ye Faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.
The shared carols inspired Capt. Josef Sewald of Germany’s 17th Bavarian Regiment to make a bold gesture:
I shouted to our enemies that we didn’t wish to shoot and that we make a Christmas truce. I said I would come from my side and we could speak with each other. First there was silence, then I shouted once more, invited them, and the British shouted “No shooting!” Then a man came out of the trenches and I on my side did the same and so we came together and we shook hands – a bit cautiously!
The Christmas truce was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas of 1914, during the First World War. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into no man’s land, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing, or – famously – games of football.
Occasionally believed to be quasi-mythical, the truce has become one of the most enduring popular images of the war, often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous, however; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, whilst in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but to nothing like the widespread extent seen in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly-worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternization.