2nd January 1915
A lady residing near Winchester wrote to us yesterday as follows:- “I have this morning received a letter from an officer who went to the front with the 8th Division, and in it he says the following, which I think might make interesting reading in your paper:- ‘We had a sort of truce on Christmas Day, and we were out in between the two trenches talking to one another. A German officer gave me two cigars, which were very good, and the men exchanged good wishes and smokes, &c. They told us that they didn’t want to fight us, as they had no grudge against us. They were mostly young fellows, and the officer was only about 21 years of age, and said he had only seen one year’s service. Nearly all the Germans spoke English, and there was one there about 12 years old and also one or two old men with bald heads, and one or two in civilian dress, so you can see they are rather a mixed crowd. It hardly seems credible, does it, but I saw it with my own eyes. I wonder when this show will be over. We hear rumours that there is eternal trouble in Berlin; if this is so it might end up sooner than was expected’.”
2nd January 1915
We have been privileged to read a letter, received in Winchester only this morning, describing something of the remarkable state of affairs which prevailed at the front on Christmas Day. It is from a gallant officer known to ourselves, whose Regiment spent their Christmas Day in the trenches. The writer says:- “I had a most extraordinary Christmas, and I have come to the conclusion that I would not have spent it out of the trenches for worlds. We went in on Christmas Eve, under the usual conditions of this sniping warfare, and carried on as usual during the night. As soon as it got light, however, the sniping died down on both sides, and by sunrise had ceased altogether. The complete silence was most weird, and I could not help thinking that this sort of mutual agreement would turn into an open truce. So it did. Encouraged by the absence of lead in the air, heads soon began popping up on both sides.
Then came cat-calls, whistles and epithets, till finally one of the Huns stood up on his parapet and waved his hands. In five minutes the ground between the opposing trenches was full of Germans and –* Highlanders exchanging cigars for cigarettes, and many other small luxuries. I went out myself, with one other officer of my Company, and we fixed things up, as far as we were concerned, with the German officers opposite. We talked in French, since they could not talk our ‘lingo’ nor we their’s. I enclose a photo** of two fellows (a postcard portrait of two German soldiers, presented by themselves) by way of a souvenir of a most weird proceeding. They told me it was taken at Lille, and I have written below what I understood their names to be. The funny part of the whole show was that we were in the trenches all Saturday and Sunday, and, when we left the truce was still continuing. Up to the time we left not a shot had been fired by either side. Though there were no more meetings, both sides used to walk about their parapets, and men could do up their barbed wire just as if they were putting up a fence round their gardens at home.” The letter proceeds to explain that this work has usually to be done at nights, and gives further particulars of what must have been a wonderfully interesting and novel situation.
* removed by censor
** Sadly the photo was not published in the Hampshire Chronicle
Saturday, January 30th, 1915
Lance-Corpl, Henderson, Royal Engineers, a nephew of Mrs E. C. Batten, 1, Fairfield-road, Winchester, writes home to his relatives as follows:-
December 24th: I found my section in the firing trench on day work, draining the trench, making traverses, and generally improving the position, Distance from the German firing line 240 yards, occupied by the 158th Regiment of Infantry. It was freezing hard all day. In some places we were up to our knees in clay, and a foot up our overcoats, it had frozen hard on, and our trousers and coats were like boards. About 3.30p.m. we discoverd a board stuck up in the German trench. We had our glasses on in a minute, and read the words in big block letters, “CONCERT OVER HERE TONIGHT. ALL BRITISH TROOPS WELCOME”. We left the trenches under cover of dusk about 4.45p.m., creeping quietly out when we were disturbed by “plonk, plonk,” in rapid succession, about 50 shots, and we soon found that they had turned a machine gun on us; but it did not matter, for we were under cover and their shots went high. Finally, we got out of the trench about 5.15pm, and started on our way to our old farm, about a mile behind the firing line, the place we call home. It is an old house with half the roof blown away, and not a whole pane of glass left. Some of us live in the cellars, and the remainder in the sitting room. On reaching the house we got a feed of warm bully and tea, and turned in for the night about seven o’clock.
December 25th (Christmas Day). Got woken from our peaceful slumbers by the sentry on guard at 4.30 a.m. and told to get dressed and stand by. We marched off about ten minutes to five, and proceeded to the firing line, but could not make out why there was no firing on either side. When we got within a quarter of a mile of the trenches we could hear both sides singing. Our men were singing carols, and as they finished one of the German would give a cheer, and our men also gave them a cheer. We finally finished up with singing “God Save The King” at day break. To our surprise, as soon as we could see across the German lines we perceived dozens of the enemy on and about their parapet; they were shouting and waving for some of us to go over. Some of them could speak broken English, and were shouting “we no shoot, and no work to-day”. We had got the order not to fire unless the Germans started, and from day-break on Christmas morning up till late on Boxing Day not a shot was fired by either side. Towards 8.30 a.m. two German soldiers came up within 50 yards of our lines, and kept on shouting “no fire, no work”. They came up without rifles or equipment.
A Lance-Corpl of the Berks regiment and a sapper of ours went out to them and shook hands. They wished each other a merry Christmas and exchanged cigarettes with each other. Then out of their holes came three German officers with some cigarettes and cigars, and shook hands with our men and gave them a drink. The sapper of ours was artful; he made a German officer have a drink out of the bottle first- we know too many of their dodges now to trust them far. The lance-corporal of the Berks Regiment shouted over for a tin of bully, and he exchanged for a tin of pears from the German officer. They carried on conversation for about half an hour, and then the order came for every man to return to his trench. The Germans shook hands with our men. The mist gave us a good opportunity for repairing the barb-wire entanglements, so that was a job for the R.E. Over the parapet we went and put in two or three hours’ good work. It was quite evident the Germans had spotted us at work, for about 12 noon, when the mist had cleared, out came a German officer and a private. He came within 100 yards of us, and kept shouting in perfect English for an officer or man to come out and speak to him. At last one of our officers went out to him and had a talk to him for about ten minutes. He told the officer of ours he did not approve of our working outside of the trenches, and that if we did not stop he would fire three rounds over our heads as a warning, and then commence rapid firing. Anyway, we ceased working, and had the half-day to ourselves. The infantry had a happy day in the trenches; they were eating Christmas stuff all day and drinking tea. It was freezing hard all day, and we left the trenches at dusk under a shower of snow. When we got back to our old farm we had a champion food of warm bully, mixed with vegetables, and finished off with some Christmas duff which had been sent by some kind people in England.
December 26.- This turned out to be another day of peace. About 10 a.m. some more German troops came forward (two or three lots), and I honestly think they wanted to surrender. They came up within hearing distance, and kept shouting “Me come with you.” but our officers sent them all back. We played a straight game with them, and they did the same with us. I thought at the time if only Kaiser Bill and other big chiefs could only agree the same as Tommy Atkins and the German soldiers we could soon have peace all the world over. Just one more little incident. A German came up with a loaf of black bread and three cigars, and asked if we would exchange for an English paper, as they had so many lies in their’s. We gave them a Daily Mail, and it contained the news of the riots in Berlin. The chap could speak perfect English and told us he had a wife and three children in Liverpool. At 6 p.m. we were again in our quarter at the old farm, and were snoring in peace up till 11.30 when all of a sudden we heard the sound of our artillery very near us, and they were plonking away at the Germans for all they were worth. The alarm went about midnight, and we stood up till daybreak, when we found that our pals of the previous two days had tried to rush our position, but they got cut up as usual, and I believe the next morning the ground where we had been so chummy, and where Germans had wished us a merry Christmas, was now covered with their dead.”