Christmas Truce Centenary for 1914...
THIS Christmas will see the centenary of the 1914 truce so I'm hoping there will be many enw additions to the site in the next few weeks. I have now launched a page devoted to centenary events. Feel free to email me details of your events so I can share them with everyone else. My email is email@example.com. I am, however, drowning in emails at the moment due to the centenary so my apologies if I fail in getting everything on to the website as quickly as I would like.
THE GERMAN VIEW
WE have never researched for this site the German viewpoint of the truce due to lack of resource. However Astrid Gross has written to us with her research into this and we've set up a German section for this.
NEW TRUCE SCULPTURE
FOR years I've moaned that there was no proper memorial to the truce soldiers in Britain - now they are popping up everywhere! There has been one unveiled in Liverpool, created by Andrew Edwards. You can read about it and the accompanying events on Liverpool Confidential.
CANADA AND THE TRUCE
I THINK I am right in saying that Canadian soldiers were still in training when the truce occurred but Canadians were aware of what happened on Christmas Eve 1914. The Canadian website ww1.canada.com has an in-depth article on the truce, including a note from a Canadian soldier about a Christmas truce in 1916. The whole article is a fascinating read.
MILITARY VOICES - 1914 - THE CHRISTMAS CAROL
A BEAUTIFUL song and polished production is on Youtube and available to download from itunes. I'm not surprised its receiving so many hits. Well done to all involved.
I STUMBLED across an amazing website the other day which recounts the diary of Bernard Brookes of the Queens Westmisnter Rifles, including his account of the Christmas Truce. It confirms a strange letter on our site telling of soldiers dressing up in women's clothes for the truce! He also collected signatures of the Germans and a photo is included on the site. Brookes survived the war but it does not appear he tried to contact his old German friends. I have now started a section for personal letters and diaries (our site was previously just for those which appeared in local papers).
AMERICAN RADIO INTERVIEW
THE Christmas Truce captures the imagination of people around the world and American radio interviewed me about the centenary. You can hear the chat with John Hockenberry on The Takeaway website. My thanks to them for their interest.
WIGTON CHORAL SOCIETY
I MANAGED to get along to Wigton Choral Society's Christmas Truce concert last Saturday. The Cumbrian choir joined with the Northern Chamber Orchestra under conductor Ian Wright for a words and music commemoration. It was superb and I particularly liked the arrangements of classic war numbers by Ian Assersohn. Congratulations to all involved.
RADIO TWO BROADCAST
BBC producer Owen McFadden got in touch to tell us about a programme about the Christmas Truce which will be broadcast on Radio 2 on Christmas Eve at 10pm. All Is Calm - The Story of the Christmas Truce will be narrated by John Hurt and, as well as archive accounts of the truce, includes contributions from Michael Morpurgo, Carol Ann Duffy and many more. Sounds delightful - we'll certainly be huddled round the radio on Christmas Eve!
SINGER and songwriter Andy Reaus has produced a song about the truce called Comrades at Christmas. You can hear it on his website.
This website was originally devoted to letters transcribed from local newspapers in Britain. But with the centenary, a number of descendants are getting in touch and kindly sharing their personal letters. Here's a link to a website published by Benedicta Makin about her grandfather, Ted Berryman.
US World War One Museum
The National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, US has put together an impressive website about the Christmas Truce, giving due credit to the volunteers involved in Operation Plum Puddings. It includes the wonderful idea of people declaring their own 'truces'. Well worth a look.
A CERAMIC Christmas cake sculpture to honour the memory of the Christmas truce is on display at the Birkenhead Rathbone Gallery's Time For Reflection exhibition, along with a poem, "The Game". Artist and writer, Jean Maskell said, “The Christmas truce was a remarkable event and reminds us of the strength of the human spirit to keep compassion and hope alive, whatever the circumstances.
As a Ceramic artist, I chose to make a cake from clay, because mud and clay caused the soldiers so much difficulty and discomfort. It was as if Nature and the very Earth was in turmoil under their feet. A Christmas cake would have been an important reminder of home for the troops, particularly as it was their first Christmas away from their families. The cake, detailed with photographs of British and German soldiers, represents the trenches, which is now their new home. Like the Christmas truce, the cake turns something negative into something positive. "
The Time For Reflection Exhibition is open until 24th January 2015 at the Rathbone Studio (Tuesday to Saturday: 2.00pm to 5.00pm) at 28 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Merseyside. CH41 6AE.
PROUD GRAND DAUGHTER
Benedicta Makin emailed about her website which is a wonderful online museum to her grandfather Ted Berryman and other members of her family who served in World War One. Ted wrote about the Christmas Truce (and drew a cartoon!) which can be found on her website. The original is in the Imperial War museum.
Researcher Caroline Gurney has written to say she may have identified one of the German soldiers who took part in the truce. She came across this account in the Chester Chronicle, Saturday January 9, 1915:
"Later on the mist cleared away, and we could see several Germans moving about on the top of their trenches. Then the strangest thing of all happened. As if by some mutual agreement, both sides clambered out of the trenches, and met in the middle of the field. We exchanged cigarettes etc, and had a general conversation. One of them, came up to an officer and said in broken English: "Good morning sir; I live at Alexander-road, Hornsey, and I would see Woolwich Arsenal play Tottenham tomorrow." In the afternoon the same scene happened again.
In the census for 1911, she found Germans George Maar, Margaret Maar and daughter Ethel Rose Marr living at Alexander Road.
Mary Stansfield is a descendant of one of the truce participants and she has set up a page on the website of Dunninald Castle and Gardens marking the involvement of John Stansfeld. The letter is from John Stansfeld (Laird of Dunninald) to his wife Yolande, dated 26 December 1914. John served with The Gordon Highlanders. Remarkably it includes a photo taken by John Stansfeld along with some fantastic detail of the truce. Our thanks to Mary for sharing this.
SOME parts of the front line carried on fighting during Christmas 1914. Indeed some soldiers died that day on the Western Front. Andrew Walls, the grandson of Pte Minto wrote to us with a picture of the man saying: "I thought you may be interested in receiving this photograph of my grandfather George Minto at the age of 27. He is mentioned on your website. He is the writer of the Evening Mail Newcastle letter of Tuesday, January 26th 1915: Facing Death Daily." And for those who criticise the Sainsbury's ad as showing the trenches looking too pretty, it is worth nothing Pte Minto's own words: "We have some beautiful trenches about where we are now."!
The Christmas Truce is being marked by the 2014 Mistletoe Festival on Saturday 6th December in Tenbury Wells, North West Worcestershire. "The Christmas Truce" runs at 3pm & 4pm, at the TSB car park, Teme Street, Tenbury Wells, North West Worcestershire. Led by Artistic Director David McKenna, the performance looks at the journey to fight from both sides of the war, and the effect on the families left behind. With a cast that includes Dancefest performance groups Fusion and Elevate, Tenbury High Ormiston Academy, and performers from the local area, this sensitive, yet energetic performance aims to tell the stories of ordinary people during the Great War. This event is free but ticketed as there are limited audience spaces. You can book your ticket at Tenbury Mistletoe Shop, Café 27, Teme Street, Tenbury Wells on the day.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
The Christmas Truce inspired The Farm’s 1990 hit All Together Now and now many of the UK’s biggest music stars have united as The Peace Collective, to re-record the song. The new track features a backing choir of schoolboy footballers from the Premier League and German Bundesliga. All profits from the release, out December 15th, will go to the Shorncliffe Trust and the British Red Cross. Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm, says: “I wrote All Together Now about the extraordinary events on Christmas Day 1914 when British and German troops took part in an unofficial truce. It is a story of hope and peace which should be told over and over again. I'm so very proud that so many artistes from all styles of music and the football authorities have come together to promote peace and reconciliation this Christmas and raise funds for the brilliant work carried out by the Shorncliffe Trust and the British Red Cross.” Stars confirmed to appear on the new recording include Alexandra Burke, Guy Chambers, Gorgon City, Gabrielle, The Proclaimers, Engelbert Humperdinck, Holly Johnson, John Power (Cast), Jah Wobble (PiL), Jane McDonald, I Am Kloot, Shara Nelson (Massive Attack), Amelle Berrabah (The Sugababes) with many more to be confirmed. Chris Shaw, Chairman of the Shorncliffe Trust, said “We feel humbled and honoured to be included in this amazing project. This charity single symbolises the past, present and future and enlightens our understanding and perceptions of WW1. All together Now by the Peace Collective beautifully commemorates the spirit of the past on that December day in 1914. The monies raised will support the great work of the British Red Cross in the present but for the Shorncliffe Trust this about us creating an educational legacy for the future. We will be building an immersive learning experience for thousands of students from across the country and enable them to walk in the footsteps of their great grandfathers who marched from Shorncliffe camp to their destiny on the Western Front.”
A LETTER FROM THE FRONT
Ian Wilson from Queensland, Australia sent this Truce letter which until a few years ago was in his family's possession. He's not sure of the identity of Fred but the line about Fred and Gert's Christmas card being given to a German as a souvenir is lovely. I wonder if any German family still has it?!
I received your letter yesterday pleased to say. I am keeping fit and well. We are having very trying weather but are looking forward to the spring. The Battalion has had a very rough time of it up to this present as I dare say you have seen by the papers. I am sorry to say I have not received Fred's parcel. I have had 5 parcels sent out that I know of and have only received one. We had a funny experience this morning. Firing became slack and we had the order not to fire unless the Germans fired. Soon after one of the Germans got out of their trench and called to us to go half-way (our trenches and theirs are about 150 yards apart in places). About a dozen of us went forward and soon all our chaps were out of the trenches shaking hands with the Germans and exchanging cigarettes. One gave me some cigars and biscuits and as I had nothing else handy I gave him Fred and Gert's Christmas Card as a keepsake. You might tell Fred and Gert when you see them that their card will travel further than they expected. Must close now as I have not much time. Hoping you and Nelly are keeping well and wishing you both a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
Your affec. cousin
[There follow some indecipherable initials that may be a censor's mark clearing the letter for sending?]
The ‘Will’ to whom the letter is addressed was my maternal grandfather William Arthur Bentall, who died, sadly at only thirty years of age, in the Spanish flu of 1918, when my mother, Doris Bentall, was only three. ‘Nelly’ was my maternal grandmother Nellie Agnes Bentall, née Greenwood, who died when I was a London schoolboy. ‘Fred’ was evidently William Bentall’s cousin, and probably a member of the rather prolific Bentall family of Felsted, Essex. Among them was a Frederick Thomas Bentall who was a lance corporal in the Essex Regiment, wounded in 1916, and awarded a Military Medal in 1918, though I can’t yet be sure it was definitely he who sent my grandparents the letter.
SILENT Night is the song that symbolises the truce in Europe (although it was little known in Britain in 1914) but I hear form Gavin Marriott in Christchurch, New Zealand that Snoopy's Christmas is equally significant in that country. In 2014 Gavin, a New Zealand member of The International Military Music Society and The Passchendaele Society,came up with an idea of commemorating the centenary of the historical origins of this song. It was promoted to play or sing 'Snoopy's Christmas' before Christmas dinner in people's homes in honour of an event which could have changed the world. A reading has been suggested for people in conjunction with the playing of this song. As an alternative he suggested people could sing 'Silent Night' ... "This song reminds us before our Christmas feast, that a century ago today, soldiers, as depicted in this song, lay down their arms in Flanders Belgium for a truce, in the spirit of the Christmas we now all enjoy today. If allowed to continue, this truce could have meant 100,000 New Zealanders not going to war and there may not be 18,000 of those not returning. This song reminds us of the sacrifice of those that did go, so we can enjoy this song, this day a century on and our Christmas feast.” What a lovley idea.
CHRISTMAS TRUCE FOR CHILDREN
A delightful book for younger readers has been put together by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey. The Christmas Truce is beautifully illustrated and the story is told in rhyme. The price is only £7.99 and it is available online.
LATTER DAY SAINTS PRODUCTION
It's possibly slicker than the Sainsbury's advert! The Church of Latter Day Saints are staging a nationwide production about the Christmas Truce during December. Take a look at the video and I'm sure the hairs on the back of your neck will stand-up. The events are free.
SAINSBURY'S TRUCE AD LAUNCHED
Sainsbury's have used the Christmas Truce as the backdrop for their Christmas advert this year. It is available on YouTube. There is also a video about the making of the advert.
PTE HEATH: THE MAN BEHIND THE LETTER
THERE is one letter that stands out from the crowd among the hundreds of truce letters on this website: the remarkable Pte Heath letter. It is a letter which describes the truce from beginning to end and it's one which is beautifully written. The letter was unearthed by volunteer Marian Robson and first appeared in the North Mail of January 9, 1915. But sadly we knew nothing about Pte Heath. He was obviously well educated but did he survive the war? Now, thanks to the diligent work of Charles Woollam and Gill Joye, his story can be told. It's quite a story. Read his biography here.
A CHRISTMAS TRUCE SONG
The Christmas truce has inspired many songs, stories and plays. Here's one delightful song composed by Alan Gray: The Reserve.
IT'S ALL FREE!
A reminder to anyone visiting this site that all the material on it is free to use - either word for word or adapted to suit your own needs. The material is either out of copyright or, in the case of the pictures, given away free. The importance of the message of the Christmas Truce and the men who lost their lives in World War One, would make it an insult for us to add any copyright to their remarkable letters!
CHRISTMAS TRUCE PLAY
I was delighted to hear from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon that they are performing a play, The Christmas Truce, written by Phil Porter. It looks superb and is suitable for families (recommends children over nine). See other Centenary events..
Truce poem :
I received an email from Gordon Hutchins telling me of a book of his poems he has had published to raise money for a good cause. One of the poems concerns the Christmas Truce. Read more...
Heath letter now available in German
We are grateful to Mathias Probst for translating the remarkable Pte Heath letter into German. You can read the letter in English here and there is a link at the top of the page to the German translation.
Children to mark truce
The Duke of Cambridge is leading a campaign to get children involved in commemorating the truce. See Guardian newspaper article.
National War Memorial
There are plans to erect a monument to the Christmas Truce at the National Arboretum in England. This will be the first memorial to the truce in the UK. See more details.
Read some of the letters
THE main purpose of this website is to serve as an archive for many of the letters written by soldiers who experienced the truce first-hand. The letters are out of copyright and you may use the material as you wish. Start reading the letters...
MASTHEAD PICTURE courtesy of The Salient Remembrance Detachment.