The First World officially began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. This period in history was mostly marked by terrible and negative events. However, on December 24th, a day before Christmas something extraordinary occurred.
Despite the fact that the First World War was one of the most terrible and violent events in the history of mankind, one of the most extraordinary and remembered war stories occurred by Christmas of 1914 when a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires started happening along the Western Front. Soldiers stopped fighting, and for a moment or two, they forgot that they were part of one of the most terrible events in human history.
Eventually, this curious yet extraordinary event would be known as the “Christmas Truce,” an agreement by which German and English soldiers stopped fighting, unofficially, to share the night of December 24, and 25 of 1914.
WWI. German troops holding the first-line trench on the river bank. Possibly during the Aisne Offensive, on May 27-June 4th, as part of 1918 German drive when they came within 56 kilometers of Paris. Image Credit: Shutterstock.
While this event is not known among many, in the week leading up to the 25th, French, German, and British forces crossed trenches in order to exchange seasonal greetings and have normal, friendly conversations.
More incredibly, in some areas, soldiers from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. It was a festive season in the middle of the war. It was as if time had stopped and for a few nights, soldiers could sleep peacefully and forget that they were part of a terrible and unforgiving event.
A cross, left in Saint-Yves (Saint-Yvon – Ploegsteert; Comines-Warneton in Belgium) in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce. The text reads: “1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget” Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
During the term of this truce, the sides exchanged prisoners and held burial ceremonies for their fallen comrades.
They played soccer, shared meals, cigars, and whiskey, the soldiers sang, laughed and forgot for a moment they were sworn, enemies.
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.” Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
On some fronts, the truce lasted until January 1 and was the only one during the years of the First World War.
Eventually, as the fighting became more intense, the military high command ultimately disallowed any kind of fraternization with the enemy.
In 1915, some soldiers arranged ceasefires, but they were not as widespread as the truce in 1914.
Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916.
The Christmas truces were especially important because of the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of people openly congregating in daylight was exceptional—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.