“The war will be over by Christmas.” A popular sentiment as the “Great War” started; it would be shortly dashed as the stalemate of trench warfare emerged as the status quo. And then something magical happened; the fighting stopped at Christmas time.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas 1914 many of the British and German forces had come to an unofficial agreement; during breakfast, “We won’t shoot at you if you won’t shoot at us.” Living in the trenches was by this time a sorry state of affairs, it had rained for days and mud and standing water was the enemy just as much as the foe across no man’s land.
In the days leading up to Christmas, the Germans started receiving small Christmas trees from back home and on Christmas Eve they set these trees along the top of their trenches and started singing carols.
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air! … First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up "O Come, All Ye Faithful" the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.
Rifleman Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade
It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and about 7 or 8 in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were these lights -I don't know what they were. And then they sang "Silent Night" - "Stille Nacht." I shall never forget it, it was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, what a beautiful tune.All up and down the line in Belgium “Tommy” and “Fritz” laid down their arms and “not a shot was fired”.
Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment
‘Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.’ For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity—war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn—a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.The above links provide many more excerpts from letters and recollections from those who participated in the Christmas truce of 1914, including stories of spontaneous football matches between the two sides. I encourage you to read both or follow this Google search link for more articles on the “Christmas Truce WWI”.
Private Frederick Heath
But perhaps the most poignant story is the introduction to the song “Christmas in the trenches” by John McCutcheon.
He tells of playing a concert in Tønder Denmark and of a small group of really old German men who came to hear him as they had for several other appearances by him. At the end of the concert he caught up with one of them as they were leaving and asked “What’s the deal?” Why had they shown up at his concerts these many times?
It was because all their lives their friends and families had told them they were crazy when they spoke about the truce. “Couldn’t possibly have happened to us. Then we heard your song on the radio and we said; see, see, ‘cause we were there”.
Riflemen Andrew and Grigg (center)—British troops from London—during the Christmas Truce with Saxons of the 104th and 106th Regiments of the Imperial German Army.
Men from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers meet their German counterparts in no man’s land somewhere in the deadly Ypres Salient, December 26, 1914.
But all good things must come to an end as the Generals could not abide this and the fighting resumed and would last for another four years.