World War I Christmas Miracle On the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front for Christmas 1914
In Christmas truce started by the Germans in WWI, firing stopped the entire Western Front and the Germans put out little Christmas trees.
They sang "Stille nacht, heilige nach" (Silent night, holy night), while the British responded with "O Come all ye Faithful."
There is some speculation that the stories about a truce on Christmas Day between British and German troops in World War I is a fairy tale. However, Snopes.com and a blog called Christmas Spirit seem to have proof that the story is true.
Veterans of WWII remember their fathers and grandfathers talking about it. In addition, one of the participating veterans of the Christmas Truce of 1914 lived until 2005, still telling the story.
A letter about the truce was discovered a box of other writing materials and it is from a young man, a British private called "Boy" by his family, in the trenches of the Western Front in WWI. He experienced the Christmas Day Truce of 1914 and the letter is worth up to 1000 British pounds or more.
The truth appears to be that at the Western Front, opposing sides even had a soccer match in No Man's Land.
The closest event to approach this one is the showing off of North and South Korean troops on either side of the DMZ with their martial arts training. It's been going on for year but is just not the same. It is not in a good spirit, but highly competitive and threatening.
The Christmas Letter Of 1914
In 1914, a British private wrote five pages in pencil on notebook paper. To his mother he writes, "dear Mater...the Germans began placing ...lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us - wishing us Happy Christmas....since about teatime yesterday, not a shot has been fired on either side up to now."
"They also gave us a few songs so we had quite a social party...Some of our chaps went over to their lines. I think they've all come back bar one from E Co. They no doubt kept him as a souvenir."
"After breakfast we had a game of football at the back of our trenches! We've had a few Germans over to see us this morning. They also sent a party over to bury a sniper we shot in the week. He was about 100 yds from our trench. A few of our fellows went out and helped to bury him...About 10.30 we had a short church parade, held in the trench. How we did sing. O come all ye faithful."
For dinner on Christmas day, the enemies ate together a meal of "fried bacon and dip-bread followed by hot Xmas pudding, then muscatels and almonds, oranges, bananas, chocolate, cocoa and smokes."
"...There must be something in the spirit of Christmas as today we are all on top of our trenches running about. Whereas other days we have to keep out heads well down...I had a parcel from B G's Lace Dept containing a sweater, smokes, under clothes etc. We also had a card from the Queen, which I am sending back to you to look after please..."
A Less Romanticized Version
British WWI Veteran Alfred Anderson
Veteran Alfred Anderson
Alfred Anderson, the last surviving World War I soldier to have witnessed the guns falling silent along 500 miles of the Western Front during the spontaneous "Christmas Truce" of the War to End all Wars, died at age 109 in 2005.
He was Scotland's oldest man.
Anderson had been a member of the famous Scottish Black Watch regiment.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 is called a miracle by many who speak of it. At the same time, historical records have shown that infantry soldiers in the horrendous trench warfare of World War I had a "live and let live" philosophy. There was no enjoyment in war, disease, and death.
Remembering Christmas 1914
On an old battlefield shown below, we see a remembrance cross. It was was built as a memorial to the Christmas Truce of December 25, 1914 in Ypres, Belgium. The city of Ypres is now called Ieper.
The inscription on the memorial cross reads:
The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce
Lest We Forget.
A Second Truce, On the Eastern Front
On the other boundary of the war, a separate Christmas Truce occurred in 1914.
According to the reference text Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War by Max Hastings (2013), in Galicia, military leaders ordered Austrian troops to cease fire unless provoked by the enemy.
The Russian soldiers and leadership responded in the same manner. Some of the soldiers placed three Christmas trees in the local "No Man’s Land. " They wrote a note:
"We wish you, the heroes of Przemyśl, a Merry Christmas and hope that we can come to a peaceful agreement as soon as possible."
The short truce was a relief to both sides of the combat. Enlisted men of both sides exchanged Austrian tobacco and schnapps for Russian black bread and meat.
Russian soldiers held their own customary festivities a few days later (probably the Orthodox Christmas) and the Habsburg troops reciprocated to them as well
Christmas in the Trenches
© 2007 Patty Inglish MS