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This December marks the 100th anniversary of the famous 1914 Christmas truce, when British, French and German troops disobeyed orders and met in no man’s land to exchange gifts and other gestures of seasonal good will.
By the Christmas of 1914, both sides were faced with the horrific realities of trench warfare and the resulting stalemate meant that the exhausted troops were often stationed within shouting distance of the enemy. There had been several attempts at peace initiatives in the run up to the festive season. A group of 101 suffragettes had written and signed an open Christmas Letter addressed "To the Women of Germany and Austria", while Pope Benedict XV had begged the warring governments to allow an official ceasefire so "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."
All calls for an end to the killing fell on death ears and hundreds of thousands of men were ordered to spend Christmas day fighting to the death over a patch of mud. Despite the bloody-mindedness of Generals and politicians alike, it appears that the men in the trenches were not willing to completely abandon the Christmas Spirit that year. At various points across allied and German lines, soldiers of both sides ignored orders and established their own unofficial truces.
On Saturday 2nd January 1915, a letter was printed in the Liverpool Echo in which a British soldier, writing to his friend, described his experience of Christmas Day on the Western Front.
The letter was written by acting Corporal Frank Edwards, a thirty year old Policeman from Birkenhead serving with the 3rd Rifle Brigade. This is what he wrote;
“Our Trenches are about 350 yards from those of the enemy, and last night we were exchanging greetings with each other by shouting over. The outcome of it was that they agreed not to fire today if we did not. You may rest assured that we promised not to do so.
After a time some of our fellows shouted to tell them that if they would come halfway unarmed we would meet them and have a chat. A couple of our fellows left the trenches unarmed, and, sure enough, a couple of Germans came to meet them.
After a time several more of us went, myself included, and had a bit of a chat and afterwards smoked side by side and buried dead Germans who had been lying there for fully two months.
You may guess that was by no means a pleasant job. However, we were on the best of terms with the Germans, and for the greater part of the day cigars, cigarettes and chocolate were freely exchanged between friend and foe.
One fellow had two cigars, one of which I accepted, although practically a non-smoker, and we had a smoke together. We were standing about in groups, chatting away as though we were the best of comrades. There must have been fifty of each side strolling about there.
At 3 p.m. a German officer called his men in. The fellow I had the cigar off said as they parted: “To-day (Christmas Day) nice; to-morrow, shot.” As he left me he held out his hand, which I accepted, and said; “Farewell, comrade.” With that we parted, and in all probability in the course of a day or so we shall be doing our utmost to kill each other.
I know this sounds like a fairy tale, but I assure you it is perfectly true. If I had not participated in it I should feel rather inclined to disbelieve it myself, as I have witnessed some very treacherous acts on the part of the Germans, but I think this will go to prove that there are honourable Germans.“
You can read the full article which contains other eye witness accounts of the Christmas truce here: http://www.genesreunited.co.uk/searchbna/viewrecord/bl/0000271/19150102/022/0003 Explore our collection of historic British Newspapers to see if you can find out how your ancestors may have celebrated Christmas.