Claim: German and British front-line soldiers sang carols, exchanged gifts, and played soccer during a World War I Christmas truce.
Examples: [Collected via e-mail, December 2003]
During World War I, in the winter of 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders, one of the most unusual events in all of human history took place. The Germans had been in a fierce battle with the British and French. Both sides were dug in, safe in muddy, man-made trenches six to eight feet deep that seemed to stretch forever.
All of a sudden, German troops began to put small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing songs. Across the way, in the "no man's land" between them, came songs from the British and French troops. Incredibly, many of the Germans, who had worked in England before the war, were able to speak good enough English to propose a "Christmas" truce.
The British and French troops, all along the miles of trenches, accepted. In a few places, allied troops fired at the Germans as they climbed out of their trenches. But the Germans were persistent and Christmas would be celebrated even under the threat of impending death.
According to Stanley Weintraub, who wrote about this event in his book, Silent Night, "signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes. They were usually in English, or - from the Germans - in fractured English. Rightly, the Germans assumed that the other side could not read traditional gothic lettering, and that few English understood spoken German. 'YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT' was the most
A spontaneous truce resulted. Soldiers left their trenches, meeting in the middle to shake hands. The first order of business was to bury the dead who had been previously unreachable because of the conflict. Then, they exchanged gifts. Chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, tobacco. In a few places, along the trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and began to play games.
It didn't last forever. In fact, some of the generals didn't like it at all and commanded their troops to resume shooting at each other. After all, they were in a war. Soldiers eventually did resume shooting at each other. But only after, in a number of cases, a few days of wasting rounds of ammunition shooting at stars in the sky instead of soldiers in the opposing army across the field.
For a few precious moments there was peace on earth good will toward men. All because the focus was on Christmas. Happens every time. There's something about Christmas that changes people. It happened over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem. It's been happening over and over again down through the years of time.
This week, Lord willing, it will happen again.
Origins: Of the British and German soldiers who faced each other across the muddy fields of Flanders on Christmas Eve in 1914, even those who no longer believed the optimistic predictions of a short war would have been shocked to learn that it would drag on for another four
Despite the constant machine gun fire and artillery bombardments of the western front, and even though in some places front-line troops were a mere
By Christmas morning, the "no man's land" between the trenches was filled with fraternizing soldiers, sharing rations and gifts, singing and (more solemnly) burying their dead between the lines. Soon they were even playing soccer, mostly with improvised balls.
According to the official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, "Tommy and Fritz" kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. "This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great
As Stanley Weintraub noted at the close of his book on the 1914 Christmas truce:
A celebration of the human spirit, the Christmas Truce remains a moving manifestation of the absurdities of war. A very minor Scottish poet of Great War vintage, Frederick Niven, may have got it right in his "A Carol from Flanders," which closed,
O ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.
|The Christmas Truce (FirstWorldWar.com)|
Brown, Malcolm and Shirley Seaton. Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914. London: Trans-Atlantic Publications, 1984. ISBN 033-03906-5-1. Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. ISBN 0-375-40052-4. Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: The Free Press, 2001. ISBN 0-684-87281-1. Weintraub, Stanley. "Amid Mud and Blood, Christmas Won Out." Los Angeles Times 24 December 2003 (p. B11).