The Christmas Truce

Soldiers in the Trenches of WWI

During World War One, there was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around the time of Christmas in 1914, just five months after the war had begun.

In the lead up to Christmas, German soldiers on various parts of the British sector of the Western Front were seen to be placing lanterns on their Trenches and on Christmas Day wooden signs could be seen on the German trenches saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and then German soldiers emerged into No Man’s Land, calling for a Truce.

Soldiers in the Trenches of WW1
Soldiers in the Trenches of WWI

Many British soldiers were initially suspicious of this, having witnessed many examples of the Germans implementing ‘ruse de guerre’ (tricks of war) and were sceptical and did not initially trust the motives for the Truce. But gradually the Truce spread. In some cases, it lasted a few hours, in others it lasted several days. Thousands of men on both sides took part with both German and British soldiers crossing trenches and venturing into no man’s land to exchange seasonal greetings, talk, sing carols and exchanged food, alcohol and tobacco. They also took souvenirs from each other such as buttons, cap badges and hats. They also swapped prisoners and they took the opportunity in the ceasefire to hold burials for their dead.

The truce wasn’t an official truce so hostilities in some areas of the front carried on as normal regardless of the seasonal timing, and that for many soldiers Christmas Day 1914 was a typical period of trench warfare with the usual losses and despair. Around seventy British and Commonwealth soldiers are recorded as being killed or died of wounds on the British front on 25th December 1914. 

For many soldiers on the front-line the truce was simply a practical reason to bury the dead.

Soldiers in the Waterlogged Trenches of WWI

The Football Match – Did it happen?

Famously along one section between the trenches there have been reports of a football match in no-mans lands. This is perhaps over sentimentalised, and we don’t know for sure if this took place, but we do know that the break in artillery fire varied along the western front, some simply taking the opportunity to bury their comrades, others singing carols, exchanging souvenirs and socialising with the ‘enemy. Ranging from Christmas day to Christmas night and some went into New Year’s Day with around 100,000 British and German troops involved.

Henry Williamson, then a 19-year-old private in the London Rifle Brigade who survived the war to become an author, sent a letter from the front to his mother. “In my mouth,” he wrote, “is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is German tobacco. Ha ha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench, Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Marvelous, isn’t it?”

And while there may have been no football match, it was a truly a remarkable day, thousands of soldiers who were enemies stopped fighting and met each other peacefully on the battlefield for a brief moment. And by the following Christmas, the truce was banned under threat of a court martial for any soldier on either side who dared to fraternize with the enemy. However, for some who witnessed the Truce, they were a reminder than in the darkest of times, peace, hope and above all humanity can prevail, even for the briefest of moments in what may feel like the depths of hell. 

Soldiers in the Trenches of WWI

The museum is now closed for Christmas and the New Year. But will be open to visitors Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm from January 4th 2022.