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The WWI Christmas Truce

On December 24-25, 1914, an impromptu cease-fire occurred along the Western Front during WWI. Amid the battle, soldiers from both sides set aside their weapons and came together peacefully in an event that has come to be known as the WWI Christmas Truce. Here are a few first-hand accounts of that historic event.

British and German Officers Meet in No-Man’s Land During WWI Christmas Truce
Courtesy of Imperial War Museums

The Canadian Expeditionary Forces 24th Battalion recorded their experience. “Early in the afternoon shelling and rifle fire ceased completely and soon German soldiers were seen lifting heads and shoulders cautiously over the parapet of their front line trench. Encouraged by the fact that no fire was opened by the men of the 24th, a number of Germans climbed over the top, advanced in No Man’s Land, and, making signs of friendship, invited the Canadians to join them and celebrate the occasion. Regulations frowned on such action, but curiosity proved strong, and a group of Canadians, including a number from the 24th Battalion, moved out to see what the enemy looked like at close range. Conversation proved difficult at first, but a number of the Germans spoke English fluently and others, having rehearsed for the occasion, one must judge, endeavored to establish their benevolence by constant repetition of the phrase, “Kaiser no damn good.” For nearly an hour the unofficial peace was prolonged, the Canadians presenting the Germans with cigarettes and foodstuffs and receiving in return buttons, badges, and several bottles of most excellent beer. By this time, news of the event had reached authority, and peremptory orders were issued to the Canadians in No Man’s Land to return to their own line forthwith. When all had reported back, a salvo of artillery fire, aimed carefully to burst at a spot where no harm to friend or foe would result, warned the Germans that the truce was over and that hostilities had been resumed…For some days after Christmas comparative quiet prevailed in the front line, but soon activity increased and the Battalion’s losses indicated that normal trench warfare conditions again existed.”

Captain Hugh Taylor from the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards led his company in an attack near Rouges Bancs on December 18-19, 1914. His troops succeeded in pushing back German soldiers and occupying their trenches. While returning alone to the British trenches to report, Taylor was caught in machine-gun fire and killed instantly. For nearly a week, his body lay near the German line. During the informal Christmas Truce, soldiers from both sides collected the dead and brought their bodies to the center space between their respective lines. They dug two trenches and buried British soldiers in one and German soldiers in the other. An English Chaplain conducted a service. Afterward, the soldiers spent several hours fraternizing with one another. Captain Taylor’s body was carried to a small military graveyard at La Cardoniere Farm and buried.

British and German troops bury soldiers during the WWI Christmas Truce – 1914
Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Three Americans serving in the Foreign Legion took part in the Christmas Truce. Victor Chapman, Eugene Jacobs, and Phil Rader were in the trenches that day. Rader, a former United Press correspondent, wrote a stirring account of his experience. “For twenty days we had faced that strip of land, forty-five feet wide, between our trench and that of the Germans, that terrible No-Man’s Land, dotted with dead bodies, criss-crossed by tangled masses of barbed wire.” Rader recounted cautiously raising his head. “Other men did the same. We saw hundreds of German heads appearing. Shouts filled the air. What miracle had happened? Men laughed and cheered. There was Christmas light in our eyes and I know there were Christmas tears in mine. There were smiles, smiles, smiles, where in days before there had been only rifle barrels. The terror of No-Man’s Land fell away. The sounds of happy voices filled the air.”

The Christmas Truce of 1914 eventually ended, and the goodwill shared between enemies for a brief moment during WWI evaporated as fighting resumed. To learn more about WWI and the soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3 today!

41 Comments

  1. My wife, Sandra Englesby, and I watched along with a full house just this past Sunday night, on 12/15/19, the final performance of “All is Calm – The Christmas Truce of 1914” in the Playhouse of the Overture Center in Madison, WI. In about an hour and a half, the actors sang songs from WW1 and recited letters and writings of the participants, both Allied and German, of the Christmas Truce. The performance was true to the historical record, including as presented in this post of Fold3. It was very moving, indeed, showing the excitement of going off to a war they thought just and that would surely be over by Christmas, followed by the grim awful reality of war, death, and destruction. Then the truce at Christmas happened, spontaneously, out of the horror of death. The enemies became just fellow humans again and friends briefly, until ordered to resume the killing and hatred… “All is Calm – The Christmas Truce of 1914″ was developed and produced by Cantus Vocal Ensemble and Theater Latte’ Da in Minneapolis, MN, December, 2007. The show premiered off Broadway in 2018, produced by Laura Little Theatricals. The director of the Madison, WI, production was Brian Cowing. ” All is Calm” performances ran from December 6 through 15 with capacity audiences, and the final performance was added in order to accommodate all who wanted to attend. The actors turned in splendid, moving performances. I could see this every year around Christmas…

    • My husband, sister, brother-in-law and I saw this performance last year at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Van Wert, Ohio; and it was very moving. I also think it should be performed every year at Christmas time as it embodies what Christmas is all about.

  2. I believe my grandfather fought with the Canadian 24. He was an English man threw and threw and when the war broke out he couldn’t get back to England quick enough so he took the next quickest route. He joined the Canadians. He never talked about the war but, I imagine it was brutal. I know how bad it can get as I am a Vietnam Veteran but we never charged a firing machine gun. The picture of the Germans and the Canadians shows a man with a scarf around his neck, second from the right. I think that is my grandfather. Thank you for your efforts you’ve made my Christmas.

    • Michael,

      The photo you refer to is:-
      Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
      ‘British officers from Northumberland Hussars meet their German counterparts in no man’s land of the Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector of the Western Front during the Christmas Truce of 1914.’

      Hope this helps,

      Aubrey Cierans

  3. A well written article. It was a terrible time often overlooked in studying History in the U.S. with the emphasis being our Civil War and WW II

  4. What an emotionally charged account, and more extensive than I had known. Tear evoking to say the least. As a small child I sat with my great uncle, s Marine Captain in WWI at the end of his life. How I wish I had that time back to ask him stories about his experiences. If those soldiers could have negotiated a war ending truce how wonderful it would have been.

    • Hello Mary Weeks:

      The book: ” Fix Bayonets! With the U.S. Marine Corps in France, 1917-1918″ by John W. Thomason, Jnr. is one of the few first hand accounts of the terrible sacrifices made by all but focused on the First Battalion, Fifth Marines and what they endured with extreme casualties. I was given this work by Franklyn Ayers, a marine veteran of three wars and who is now 94 years old and about to join his many fellow marines. In memory of Frank and your grandfather, I would send this to you if you can’t get it. You might request your grandfather’s DD214 which is his service record to learn about where he fought, awards received, and other service details. Semper Fi, cvi.

  5. No Man’s Land’ is still considered too contaminated for any use at all. France is quite serious about it and it’s ‘off limits’ to all.

  6. While reading about this truce it made me wonder if there were other times during wars where a truce was called during Christmas.
    My grandfather was in the war here during the Civil War, and he drove the ambulance that transported the soldiers with the flu during the outbreak. Some were dead, some were barely alive, and some would survive, but he did his job and picked them up no matter how bad they were.
    Soldiers that fight for their country’s are all the same, they do it because they love their country.

    • I understand that during the battle of Stalingrad there was a brief truce for retrieving the dead and dying. It was memorialized in a few movies about this horrific battle. I have always wondered it this truce actually happened or if it was invented by the directors of the movies about The Stalingrad Battle.

    • I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and In my 84 yrs of life,I have heard absolutely nothing about this wonderful story. I will be passing this on to as many people as I can reach. Many Members of my family have fought in every war known to mankind. My 19 Yr old brother Julian Harding Lewis went down with his ship,The USS Juneau CL 52.Friday November 13,1942 along with the Five Sullivan Brothers. His picture along with his Purple Heart hangs in my wall.
      Thank You Fold 3.

  7. There was a 2005 French film “Joyeux Noël” about the Christmas truce.

  8. The song Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon gives an account of this event. I think it can be found on Youtube.

    • Many thanks for the informative access to the song CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES.
      I followed your direction to utube, finding unlimited wonder!
      So many things undiscovered-buried history of our past.

    • It is one of my favorite songs, and has been for many years. I have heard McCutcheon comment the song was a gift to him because it just came to him, and it didnt take him long to write it. I have been so fortunate to hear him sing it so many times.

  9. Serendipity – I’ve been recently doing research on the death of my uncle at Vimy Ridge in 1917 and have made much study of the WW1 activities of the Canadian 16th Bn C.E.F. in which he served. It was quite a coincidence to see the article outside my research activities.

  10. HOW ACQUIRE ABOUT YANKEE DIVISION 26TH WW1 ACTION HISTORY? TNX

  11. A movie was made about this in 2005. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyeux_No%C3%ABl

    There are film trailers about it on Youtube.

    You can find copies on eBay

  12. A very appealing opera about the truce. (Wish I had known about the “all is calm” performance in the playhouse – could have gone after the symphony concert.): https://www.npr.org/2012/04/23/151211677/hear-the-opera-that-just-won-the-pulitzer

  13. Check out this video on YouTube – Casting Crowns Peace on Earth. It sets their beautiful version of ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day’ to footage from the film ‘Oh what a lovely war’ with an up to date message at the end.

  14. There is also a novel about it. The Silent Christmas by M J Lee.

  15. Sitting here i was thinking of all the boys who had lost there lives for use
    And that they gave such a lot for use to live on
    And i my self will never forget them i think of them every XMAS
    God Bless You Boys
    You will not be forgoten
    Rest In Peace

  16. I was very glad to see this story. My grandfather, Fritz Giessler was an 18-year-old German soldier in the trenches during the 1914 Christmas truce. This was the only story he ever told about the war. He sang Christmas carols with the British troops in no-mans-land and watched his German comrades play soccer against British troops. He said both the British and Germans laughed at the distinctive points which were on top of the German helmets at that time. As a joke, they used the pointed helmets to mark the goal posts for the game.

    • That’s interesting Tom, thanks. The incident of the soccer game was used by John McCutcheon in his song Christmas in the Trenches that I posted about earlier. “In a flare-lit soccer game we gave em hell”.

  17. It’s just sad that they had to go back to senselessly murdering people who had never wronged them. But they were ordered to, and no one should EVER question orders, right? Sarcasm.

    But I love being reminded about it because it shows not only how different this war would be front the one that followed a few decades later, but also shows that the enemy isn’t the boogeyman.

    I really hate the romanticization of war, and this whole event proved that it wasn’t some hero mission.

    WWII however was.

    The comparisons I think of are in terms of Star Wars. WWII is obviously the original films with all the Nazi references, and the clone war had “heroes on both sides” and was a separatism conflict, and it’s a lot like WWI. But of course there are differences because the Emperor is the parallel of Hitler and the rise to power is different bla bla bla not important.

    Christmas Truces are great.

  18. And of course I can’t edit the typos in the last comment. Pretend they’re not there.

  19. Christmas Truces are great. But the truth is: French soldiers present during that truce had been returned to the back line, and some executed for treason. The Scottish battalion has been dismantled and Scots dispersed in other battalions; German soldiers had been sent to the Russian front. Few of them survived. And it was absolutely forbidden to talk about that. This is indiscretion of some soldiers which drove them to that disaster.
    It was necessary to replace those soldiers because they didn’t want to shoot their new friends.
    If you’re interested, watch the French movie “Joyeux Noel ” as already mentioned above. It’s romantic (specially with the singer Diane Kruger), but other events are true. Including the end.
    My grandfather and my great-grandfather belonged to the CEC (14th battalion), but they were in England at this time, and they disembarked in Flanders in February 1915.

  20. My grandfather fought it The Great War. He said the officers did, indeed, insist upon resuming the battle. He told me, “We spent the next day or so trying to shoot the stars out of the sky.”

  21. The Christmas truces were real; my grandfather was there, Dec 1914, in the 57th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, BEF. However, the Canadians were not. They were still in training camps in Canada. They came to France in early 1915, and fought their first, ferocious battle at 1st Ypres, in the early spring. They may or may not have had a subsequent, similar truce of a type in 1915 or 16, but not in 1914.

  22. My Christmas this year is going to be in Yrpres. The truce site and Last Post.

  23. Brian, I have visited Ypres 3 times with my Belgian family. It is such a moving experience and they too tell the Story of the Christmas truce. It imparts hope even today in difficult times that our world can find some peace.

  24. Several years ago, my sister-in-law and I went to a Celtic Thunder concert, and this was when I first heard the song, ‘No Man’s Land’. It brought tears to our eyes. Since I had never heard the story about the truce before, I wondered if the song was a true account of what happened that Christmas Day. Reading all the comments about it has made it even more poignant and exceptionally sad!

  25. The 24th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was in Montreal on 24-25 December 1914.

  26. Though Mr. Bentler seems to cleared up the chronology problem with the article, it bears repeating. The “truce”, as far as the VRCs were concerned occurred in 1915, not 14. The Princess Pats were overseas in December, though not near any “truce” spots.

  27. Adding to the clarifications above, there were no Canadian units anywhere near the front lines during Christmas 1914. The PPCLI had just arrived in France a few days earlier, but weren’t near the front. The 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles) diarist writes about this in the December 1915 portion of the battalion history.

    A lot of the stories of the Christmas truce of 1914 are apocryphal but there is some photographic evidence. The British Army (of which the Cdns were part) laid down the law that this would never happen again. Who knows if the VRC stories of 1915 are accurate?

  28. They allow visitors to Belleau Wood though.

  29. Sainsbury’s (grocery store chain in the UK) made a wonderful Christmas short film advertisement in 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this event. Sainsbury’s was selling chocolate bars (featured in the film) for £1, half of sales price was donated to the Royal British Legion.
    It is well worth the watch as well are The Making Of and The Story Of which are referenced at the end of the short film.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWF2JBb1bvM

  30. There is a wonderful movie DVD entitled Joyeux Noel, a fictional account of such an incident between French, Scottish, & German troops. I recommend all to watch it.