Sep
27

Xmas Ceasefire of December 1914

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Following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, a good number of people imagined it would be settled by Christmas. Loyal teenage men were anxious to join the army as soon as possible as they feared they would lose out on the action. Of course, history has highlighted that their optimism was misguided as the war would not conclude right up until 1918. The German advance was stopped at the 1st Battle of Marne and the race for the sea began as the Allies and Germans both dug in. It was the beginning of the trench warfare of the Western Front.

The end result was lines of trenches winding down from the North Sea to Switzerland along a 440 mile front. The battle lines moved hardly at all as a struggle of attrition broke out. Original trenches weren’t well built and were prone to cave in. Even by trench warfare standards, 1914 was pretty horrific. As winter neared, the men on the front line realised that the war would not be over by Xmas after all.

The Western Front ran through both Belgium and France with soldiers from France, Belgium and Great Britain manning a range of sectors. In some parts, the German trenches were no more than 30 yards away. Being in such close proximity allowed the infantry to call to their opponents or even hold up signs. On the German belt buckles was the inscription “Gott Mitt Uns” (God is with us). The British reply was “We’ve got mittens too”. Some of the shouting matches were a bit more black humour. A volley of shots would get the shout “Missed” or “Left a bit”.

Nevertheless, it was these exchanges that laid the foundations of a few astonishing scenes along the Western Front on 24th December 1914. The Germans celebrate Christmas on the 24th as opposed to United Kingdom and France who celebrate on the 25th). The weather had improved and on the 24th, the sounds from the German trenches were different. They began singing carols and placed Xmas Trees on their trenches. Men began calling to each other and after a while, some ventured into no mans land where they talked and exchanged cigarettes, food and souvenirs. Stories of the truce varies as there were actually a handful of truces up and down the lines. They were mostly in the sectors manned by the British as the Germans were occupying Belgium and French land so the Christmas spirit was less in evidence amongst these men.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 was unofficial but as many as 100,000 men were thought to have been involved. As well as fraternisation, the chance was also taken to reclaim and bury the dead. One of the most widely known parts of the truce was the football match between the British and Germans. There are a number of inconsistant reports in relation to the game with a number of finals scores. This would suggest there were several games at various locations.

The duration the ceasefire lasted also varied but generally, it was over on Christmas Day. More often than not, hostilities started again by mutual arrangement. In one case, on the morning of the 26th December 1914, Captain Stockwell of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers fired into the air and stood above the parapet. His opposite number in the German trench also stood up, they saluted and stepped down. Captain Stockwell heard the German fire a couple of shots into the air and World War I started again. Never the less, the Christmas Truce was very much against the wishes of British commanders and in the following years, artillery barrages were ordered for Xmas Eve.

In 2008, a plaque to the Christmas Truce on the Western Front was unveiled at the village on Frelinghen and was the 1st memorial to the events of Christmas 1914. The legacy the truce left behind is appreciable with several books being written and published and it was also the inspiration for quite a few songs.

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