The Christmas Truce: why and what happened when peace broke out on the battlefields of the First World War
Amidst the horrors of the First World War, here’s how peace broke out for a day
The First World War is a conflict which has become known as a wide scale waste of human life. Millions of soldiers from across the globe were thrust into what would become known as ‘the war to end all war’. Many of them would never return home, and almost all were left with physical or psychological scars from their time in the trenches.
Yet amongst all of the killing, there were moments of humanity. One of the most famous of these is the Christmas Truce. By Christmas 1914, the fast paced and open warfare which had dominated the early weeks of the conflict had been replaced by bloody, attritional stalemate. Hundreds of miles of trenches had been dug and both sides sat in the mud, waiting to either attack or be attacked.
From a British perspective, the early prediction that soldiers would be back home for Christmas and the war would be over had melted away quickly during December. Hundreds of thousands of troops now faced the prospect of being in the frontline on Christmas Day.
The truce began in earnest late on Christmas Eve. soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) reported hearing Christmas carols being sung from German soldiers in the trenches opposite them. The British joined in, and the Germans lined the top of their trenches with Christmas trees.
Dawn on Christmas Day arrived and in some parts of the line, the sense of peace remained throughout. Cautious soldiers from both sides edged over the top of the parapet and into no-man’s land to greet their enemy who - for at least one day- would be their friend. The men exchanged gifts, food and drink. They showed each other photographs of loved ones back home. Many no doubt wondered if anyone would believe what they were taking part in.
Impromptu games of football took place across the line and a sense of normality was found in a place of utter madness. The break in the fighting was also used as a chance for both sides to return the bodies of the soldiers who had died in earlier attacks.
The Christmas Truce didn’t last long and it didn’t change the course of the war. Yet for a few hours, soldiers were able to put their differences aside and have some semblance of peace.
The Imperial War Museum in London has a wide range of materials including photographs and letters depicting the incrdible moment in history. For more information, visit their website.