December 25, 1914: The Story of the Christmas Truce

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A Brief History

World War I has seen its share of bloodshed and tragedy. Still, around Christmas time in 1914, something miraculous happened. After violence has claimed a considerable number of lives, the German and British soldiers have decided to stop killing each other for the holy Christmas day. This way, the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 began, but what made it possible for them to start singing carols, and what is the actual story of the famous Christmas Truce? Let us find out more!

Digging Deeper

How It All Begun

British and German troops meeting in no man’s land during the unofficial truce (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector)

Before the legendary event of World War I, the soldiers in the trenches were still in the middle of the war, although they believed the war would be done by Christmas. Even so, something was about to happen, and it would change their mood completely.

After both sides of the war have suffered devastating human losses, the first Christmas of the war was approaching. Given the significance and spirit of Christmas, it was considered a day of peace. Before this holy day, Captain Arthur O’Sullivan, who led the British Army, was stationed in Rue du Bois, France; however, something has grabbed his attention – he heard the sound of German accents from across the barracks. Basically, the English were asked to not shoot after midnight, and they won’t get shot in return. Moreover, they were asked to go and have a discussion with the Germans, as they will be safe and there will be no bloodshed. Therefore, an Irish rifleman was used as a way to test whether this was true, and the English were surprised to see him return in one piece, and even more, with a gift.

Having returned with a cigar, other soldiers considered going to the still battlefield too, and so they met halfway, making peace, despite being from opposite sides.  Thus, the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 began.

Christmas Celebrations

An artist’s impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

After the start of the truce on Christmas Eve in 1914, about 100,000 soldiers from both German and English armies have started celebrating Christmas together. German troops were decorating their areas by placing candles on Christmas trees and around their trenches.

A beautiful moment of celebration was represented by the carols sang by the English and German troops. When the Germans have started singing their version of “Silent Night, Holy Night”, the English did not hesitate to respond with carols of their own. Through all the carols and Christmas greetings, the two parties had also started exchanging gifts at the No Man’s Land. The gifts mostly consisted of alcohol, tobacco, food, but also various items such as hats.

Furthermore, this truce made room for the armies to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades, which is a huge sign of respect during wartime. It meant a lot for borh armies. Some of the war zones were still quite violent despite the holiday spirit, but peace was established in most of the areas; however, some generals were not fond of this kindness.

Football Matches – Myth or Reality

Football Remembers memorial, designed by Spencer Turner, at the National Memorial Arboretum.  Photograph by DeFacto.

According to some, there was even a football match between the troops, but it is not certain whether this was indeed true or just a myth. It has been debated by historians, and some have declared that, according to them, there might have been an attempt, which failed because of the state the ground was in.

Other people say that there’s evidence of a football game being played, only not between the opposing sides of the war, but between the English troops only; however, according to Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch, a game has started between the German and English soldiers as soon as the latter have brought a ball from their trenches. In his opinion, it was a strange, yet wonderful thing.

Moreover, a letter from a doctor attached to the Rifle Brigade said a football game took place in front of the trenches between soldiers of the two armies. The reason why it’s been negated so much is that the brigade went on about how it wouldn’t have been a wise decision to let the English and Germans play together. Apparently, if this happened, the Germans would find out about the bad conditions of the British trenches.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of evidence about football being played, and most of the stories have been told by German troops. People talking about the game between the soldiers say the game has ended 3-2 for the Germans.

Violence During the Truce

Map of the Western Front and the Race to the Sea, 1914.  Map by The History Department of the United States Military Academy.

Despite the fact that peace was established in most of the areas, some were still not being content with the sudden spirit of generosity. Apparently, Corporal Clifford Lane of H Company Hertfordshire said that he saw German soldiers approaching from the trenches. At their sight, he ordered to open fire at the long distance targets.

Even so, the Germans have not had any similar reaction to the fire and continued to celebrate Christmas instead. According to Corporal Lane, they were having a wonderful time, which is why they ignored the sudden violence and went on with their celebrations; however, he later regretted his decision of firing and not joining the truce and celebrations. In his opinion, he would’ve had an amazing time and experience.

The Eastern Front

Rival military coalitions in 1914: Triple Entente in green; Triple Alliance in brown. Only the Triple Alliance was a formal “alliance”; the others listed were informal patterns of support.  Map by historicair (French original) and Fluteflute & User:Bibi Saint-Pol (English translation).

One separate event that is part of the Christmas Truce happened on the Eastern front. Apparently, the Austro-Hungarian commanders have made their first move and asked for a truce for Christmas. The Russians joined them and so they eventually went to the no man’s land and started having a good time.

Despite some violence here and there, the truce has lasted until the first days of 1915, after New Year’s Eve. The event is of historical significance and there are even monuments and memorials to celebrate this event. One of them was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, whereas another one can be seen in Staffordshire, England.

All in all, the truce has shown that soldiers were capable of kindness, hospitality and generosity on Christmas day, even during the terrible World War I.

Question for students (and subscribers): Should Christians avoid fighting each other Christmas?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Crocker, Terri Blom and Peter Grant.  The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War.  University Press of Kentucky, 2017.

The featured image in this article, an artist’s impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915 showing “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches,” is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published outside the United States prior to January 1, 1924.


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