The Christmas Truce of 1914
"It is thought possible that the enemy may be contemplating an attack during Christmas or New Year. Special vigilance will be maintained during these periods." From General Headquarters at St. Omer - to all units, 24th December, 1914.
At Christmas time, it is not unusual for groups of people to gather to sing their favorite hymns. This happens even during war time. Troops of the American Civil war talked about evenings when the fires of the enemy could be seen burning, when guards on both sides exchanged greetings and when men sometimes both played or sang the same songs.
The most unusual account of such a time during war happened in 1914. Troops of both sides sat in trenches along nearly the entire country of France. The British and Scotts were on one side facing the German army on the other. Both sides were suffering from the cold, ice and snow. Men were afraid to lift their heads above the edge of the trench for fear of snipers on the other side. Yet in the cold night air on Christmas Eve, the British troops could hear a familiar song being sung…
Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Cautious heads popped up above the British trenches, then back down again. But no shots rang out. Heads popped up again to take longer looks. Some of the Brits began to join in with the singing in English. The music on both sides got louder. Then came a round of applause and happy laughter from both sides of the battlefield.
The German soldiers kept singing carols, and, before long, one of the Brits pointed to the enemy trench across the way. It looked like a Christmas tree was rising up out of the trenches. It had a few make-shift candles on it and was set up at the edge of the trench as voices called out, “No shoot! No shoot to-night, Jock! We sing tonight!"
No shots were fired by either side for the rest of the night. Nor, did the firing start the next morning. Neither side wanted to start the killing again.
On Christmas morning, the Brits were at breakfast, a cry was raised that a number of Germans had left their trenches. Springing to arms, the British soldiers could scarcely believe their eyes when they looked over the parapet and saw enemy soldiers standing in the open in front of their trenches, all unarmed. Some of the enemy shouted "No shoot!" and after a little, a number of British and Scotts also got out of their trench.
A chaplain had just finished a burial service behind the lines and suggested that he try and ask for a truce so both sides could gather and bury the dead who were still on the battlefield. As the chaplain neared the German lines holding his hands up to show he was unarmed, a German officer came out of the trenches to talk with him. Several Scots followed the chaplain just as several more Germans followed their officer. As the officers saluted and began to talk, a hare jumped out of the bushes. The men on both sides jumped back in fear then began to laugh at themselves.
Then the strangest thing happened. The men from both sides jumped out of the trenches and began to chase the hare back and forth between the lines. Men who had previously been trying to kill one another now had a contest to see who could catch the wild hare. The Germans captured the Hare, but the laughter continued. There was a truce. The rest of Christmas Day was filled with peace and goodwill.
With only half a football field in space between the two armies, the men from both sides came out of their trenches and began to dig graves for the fallen. The chaplain read the 23rd Psalm in English at a funeral for the men from both sides, and a German student who was studying to become a pastor read it in German. The chaplain said a prayer. The German translated his words into German. Then the officers from both sides saluted one another.
Word spread down the line about the truce. Men from both sides exchanged gifts, buttons, pipes, tobacco, cans of food and more. Tobacco was traded for German cigars. English beef was traded for German sausages. British rum was traded for German wine and Cognac. The men laughed and talked to one another. A German barber gave haircuts to many of the British troops. At one part along the line someone brought out a soccer ball, and the game was on. The Scottish 133rd regiment beat the Germans 3 goals to 2.
The officers ordered the men back into the trenches later, and they followed orders. But when the order to begin firing once more came – the men did not want to shoot at men they had talked to and sang and played with only hours before. When no officers were around, the men left the trenches to visit with their newly found friends even more. When the officers came around, warnings were given. Back into the trenches again!!! The ordinary soldiers were tired of fighting. The men of both sides wanted to go home!
This truce lasted until January 3rd. A German officer approached the British lines and said he had been ordered to begin the fighting again. One hour later, the war began again.
But in 1914 – there was not just one silent night. There were ten days when the Peace of God was shared between two warring enemies. What a wonderful world this would be if we would all pass the peace to one another and lay aside our differences.
Adapted from account taken from The Sixth Gordons in France and Flanders, Published 1921