The Real Story of the World War I ‘Christmas Truce’

If you can possibly stand another Christmas-related story today, then you might enjoy reading a detailed account of the famous “Christmas Truce” of 1914. It wasn’t formal or widespread, but in isolated areas on the front, men from both sides emerged for their trenches, exchanged meager gifts and even played soccer. (Yes, my European friends, I know it’s “football” – but perhaps we can have a truce of our own?) It’s a bittersweet story: What better reminder of the absurdity of war than enemies briefly united in brotherhood by sport, custom and hospitality? Sadly, the peace wasn’t to last – and in many cases it was squelched from the very beginning by officers eager to continue the war. I can’t read the phrase “return of good old sniping” without my stomach churning…

Via Smithsonian Magazine:

Of course, not every man on either side was thrilled by the Christmas Truce, and official opposition squelched at least one proposed Anglo-German soccer match. Lieutenant C.E.M. Richards, a young officer serving with the East Lancashire Regiment, had been greatly disturbed by reports of fraternization between the men of his regiment and the enemy and had actually welcomed the “return of good old sniping” late on Christmas Day—”just to make sure that the war was still on.” That evening, however, Richards “received a signal from Battalion Headquarters telling him to make a football pitch in no man’s land, by filling up shell holes etc., and to challenge the enemy to a football match on 1st January.” Richards recalled that “I was furious and took no action at all,” but over time his view did mellow. “I wish I had kept that signal,” he wrote years later. “Stupidly I destroyed it—I was so angry. It would now have been a good souvenir.”

In most places, up and down the line, it was accepted that the truce would be purely temporary. Men returned to their trenches at dusk, in some cases summoned back by flares, but for the most part determined to preserve the peace at least until midnight. There was more singing, and in at least one spot presents were exchanged. George Eade, of the Rifles, had become friends with a German artilleryman who spoke good English, and as he left, this new acquaintance said to him: “Today we have peace. Tomorrow, you fight for your country, I fight for mine. Good luck.”

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5 Comments on "The Real Story of the World War I ‘Christmas Truce’"

  1. InfvoCuernos | Dec 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm |

    I don’t think I have ever heard of american troops participating in the truce- christmas is usually a time for sneak attacking for us (Valley Forge). The truly tragic nature of war is revealed in moments like this when we are all reminded that we are all humans and that peace is very possible, if we allow it. Note that its usually the officers that squash that hope of peace. There’s no glory in that.

    • MoralDrift | Dec 26, 2012 at 1:38 am |

      Considering that America didnt enter the war until 1917, I’d say it does not surprise me that no American troops participated in the truce.

      That being said, there is no doubt that humanity is entirely misguided and it does take far greater courage to let your neighbor or enemy into your home then it does to blow his strange foreign head off.

      I sincerely agree with you that we can have peace,if we truly want it, although….lets not place all the blame on the officers…they have careers to look after you know!

  2. BuzzCoastin | Dec 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm |

    what if they gave a war
    and nobody came?

  3. Check this music video out on YT

    Pipes of Peace Paul McCartney 1914-1918 Remembrance Day

  4. Sport is War, War is Sport.

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