A Lasting Memorial
The Christmas Truce

The Christmas Truce

By Peter Simkins, Imperial War Museum

Along the British section of the line, about 22 miles in Flanders, particularly on and around Christmas Day (it wasn't just a Christmas Day phenomenon), both sides began to detect in the opposing trenches, certain signs of Christmas celebration (if celebration is the right word in such a setting). Germans would be heard singing, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht."

The British forces would respond with a British Christmas carol. In some places, food was lobbed over into the opposing trenches. I think on one or two instances, the Germans erected Christmas trees. And, there was a kind of mutual curiosity, and certainly instances of soldiers applauding each others' singing; and it became a kind of friendly duel, if you like. And, people would shout messages like: "Fritz, here. I was a waiter in a Manchester hotel before the war. How are my friends from the Lancashire? (Fusiliers? etc., etc.)"



On Christmas Day itself, the first curious, slightly headstrong people, perhaps, from both sides poked their head above the trenches, and being made aware that somebody on the other side wasn't going to shoot it off, then clambered cautiously out. Others followed suit. People stopped in the middle of no-man's-land, shook hands, exchanged buttons and badges, cigarettes. And, this went on, in some parts for two or three days. And, then, partly because the Generals didn't want it to happen, and partly because units moved out of the line and others came in, the thing died away. It was never repeated.
So, it is very much a 1914 phenomenon. I think it's wrapped up with the fact that you could still be sentimental in 1914. Whereas, when total war became much more all-pervasive later in the war, and the war became much more sort of a mass war for everybody, I think the sort of slightly old-fashioned sentiments lost their place and it became much nastier business.