Christmas Day, 1914: German and British troops are out of their trenches, playing soccer, bartering goods and singing songs. For a brief moment, the fighting has ceased.

The previous night, soldiers on both sides had begun singing Christmas songs in their respective languages — but under a unified melody. Music was often a commonality between soldiers in opposing trenches, tying them together beyond the language barrier and transcending beyond the short but deadly distances between the trenches.

On Christmas morning, several German soldiers emerged from their fighting positions, unarmed, calling out, “Merry Christmas!” in English. One must wonder whether they had that much trust in the honor of their fellow, opposing infantrymen; or if they were simply reserved to the fact that if the enemy takes advantage of a Christmas offering to kill opposing soldiers, then they would rather die anyway. Either way, they took to the “no-man’s land” in an offering of temporary peace, and the English met them there.

Captain A. D. Chater of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders wrote in a letter to his mother,

I think I have seen one of the most extraordinary sights today that anyone has ever seen … about 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trenches and came towards ours.
We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles. So one of our men went out to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas.”

They shook hands, spoke as peers and friends, sung Christmas carols and bartered among one another, trading cigarettes and the like. They even started playing a game of soccer.

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During this time, several soldiers took it upon themselves to drag the deceased in no-man’s land back to friendly lines. No one fired a shot.

Here is a dramatization of the Christmas Truce of 1914,  and if you’re thinking of rolling your eyes at the typical “Christmas cheer” trope, just remember that this really happened. It’s a stark reminder that the foot soldiers on both sides of a war are often just regular people — not the demonic, hate-filled enemies many would have their own foot soldiers believe.

These sorts of truces didn’t happen often after that. The chain of command threatened their own if they participated in such acts, and so after this early stage of WWI it became less and less common.

And of course, the Christmas Truce also did not last and the gruesome fighting continued soon after. But there are several recorded instances when soldiers from the trenches fraternized with the enemy — many German soldiers knew English and things like music, bartering for cigarettes, or even simple conversations about the weather or sports often gave the soldiers a breath of fresh air and a brief moment of peace.

 

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons — an actual image from the event.