January 4th, 1915: On the Field of War: A Lucky Escape. Jack Tar As Journlist. Enemy’s fraternal greetings
The following from The Times is a translation of a letter from a Belgian soldier: Christmas in the trenches.
It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas d then leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternising we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming. They asked us to spend Christmas without firing and the whole day passed without any fighting. At eight o’clock in the evening we were relieved by other soliders, and returned to the rear without being disturbed. Was it not splendid? Think you that we were wrong? We have been criticised here; it is said that we ought to have fired. But would it not have been dastardly? And then, why kill one another on such a festive day?
2nd January 1915: On the field of war. A Christmas Truce. An officer in the RFA writes on December 27th in The Times: “On Christmas Eve things were very much as usual. We sat round a fire all evening, at about 11 o’clock a very excited infantry officer came along and told us that all fightings was off, and the men were fraternising in between the trenches. It had been agreed between the soldiers on both sides that there should be no firing until midnight Christmas Day. We went back to bed about 12.30am, and stood to arms as usual on Christmas morning. I had a look round, and as nothing seemed to be doing went along to see some other people; they confirmed the news of the truce. It was all arranged privately, and started by one of our fellows going across! I think he was rather brave to be the first to do it. I arranged to go down to their trenches after breakfast as they have a place where they are only about 70 to 80 yards apart.
Then the Colonel and — (censored) came across to see the fun. They arrived about 11 o’clock and I was on my way back. You can hardly imagine it; the only sentries were two unarmed ones to keep our men from straying out beyond the barbed wire. All our fellows were digging in the open and there’s were doing the same. The only forbidden was to make any improvement to the barbed wire. Further, they agreed that if by any mischance a single shot were fired, it was not to be taken as an act of war, and an apology would be accepted; also that firing would not be opened without due warning on both sides. Finally, we all walked out and one of their officers came to meet us. We all saluted, shook hands, and exchanged cigarettes. Unfortunately, they understood no french or English, and we could not muster a word of german between us. You will rather gather that conversation languished. Finally, they got a man out of the trenches who had lived for some years in America, and he acted as interpreter. the officers were little more than boys, and one of them had already been wounded. They were intensely polite, and there was any amount of clicking of heels. The soldiers all seemed rather young, but they did not appear very despondent or underfed. One man informed us that they had been told that Russia had been defeated and that the war would be over in three weeks.
Another begged an officer on our side to send him photograph to his sister, who lives in Liverpool. I know that is true, because the officer showed me the photo. Seems a strange idea to take a stock of one’s photos on active service, but there you are! One thing we did notice was that some of them were shy of uniforms, but that may have been merely owing to the fact that they were in the trenches and trying to save their uniforms. The Germans were all for the truce lasting for 48 hours, but we stuck out for midnight on Christmas.
This friendly intercourse with the enemy is also referred to in an interview by a company sergeant major, Frank Naden, of the 6th Cheshire territorials who has returned to his home at Stockport for a week’s leave. “On Christmas Eve,” he said, “as each fireball went up from the German lines, our men shouted ‘Hurrah’ and ‘Let’s have another’. They also sang ‘Christians, Awake!’ and other Christmas hymns. On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up. Our fellows immediately got out of their trenches and the Germans got out of there’s, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchange food, cigarettes and souvenirs. The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff. The Scotsmen started the bagpipes, and we had a rare old jollification, which included football, in which the Germans took part. The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over. They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack-knives and other articles. Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease, but we did not fire at all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us.”