One of the most famous days of World War I was one where the fighting stopped. On December 25, 1914, the sounds of guns being fired were stopped and the sounds of Christmas carols filled the air. The soldiers were five months deep into World War I, but when Christmas Day arrived, soldiers were too overwhelmed with the spirit of Christmas to continue the fight.
World War I was the war that saw the advent of trench warfare. Troops from France and Great Britain were dug into their trenches in France along with the enemy Germans deep in their trenches only 100 yards away. As the gunfire ceased, a light was seen by the German trenches. Soldiers from France and Britain assumed it was a trap to draw them out of their trenches. Slowly, a soldier crept close to the German side and noticed that a Christmas tree was lit up. The soldier also recognized the song that the Germans were singing. The words were not known but the tune of “Silent Night” was obvious.
The area between the trenches was known as “no man’s land.” You were guaranteed to be shot and killed if you entered that area. Slowly, troops from each side entered into “no man’s land” and began to wish each other Merry Christmas. John Ferguson, a British Corporal, wrote about his experience during the Christmas truce.
“We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.”
The soldiers did not have gifts with them to exchange so they had to make gifts up with what they had with them. Some of the gifts exchanged were cigarettes, chocolates, and sausage. The German has seized barrels of beer that they stole from a brewery nearby and shared the beer with their enemies during the Christmas truce. According to British soldier Frank Richards, the enemy combatants used the beer to toast to each other’s health and to agree that “French beer was rotten stuff.”
“We marked the goals with our caps. Teams were quickly established for a match on the frozen mud, and the Fritzes beat the Tommies 3-2.”
Sadly, not every soldier upheld the Christmas truce. Some locations along the front lines were still shooting their guns and killing some who were coming out of their trenches in no man’s land to join their other soldiers for Christmas. High-ranking members of the military were not happy with what was happening with the spontaneous Christmas truce. Some of the high-ranking officials thought this was going to be a sign that their soldiers had lost the will to continue fighting in the war. Adolf Hitler, then a soldier in the German Army, had a message for the German soldiers who participated in the Christmas truce.
“Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honor left?”
When the sun went down on Christmas Day, the soldiers went back to their trenches. On December 26, 1914, World War I started back up for these men.
The Christmas Truce was a moment in history that showed that even the spirit of Christmas can be stronger than a war.
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