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.
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.
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!