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A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads:
1914 - The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce - 1999 - 85 Years - Lest We Forget.

The Christmas truce refers to several brief, unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front during Christmas 1914 and, to a lesser extent, in 1915. In 1915 there was a similar Christmas truce between German and French troops, and during Easter 1916 a truce also existed on the Eastern Front.

Contents

Background

World War I involved most of the world's great powers (centred around the Triple Entente), against the Central Powers.[1] Great Britain declared war on Germany, on 3 August 1914, following an 'unsatisfactory reply' to the British ultimatum that Belgium must be kept neutral.[2] An advance west, through France, brought the German army within 43 miles (70 km) of Paris. However, at the First Battle of the Marne (6–12 September 1914), French and British troops were able to force a German retreat by exploiting a gap which appeared between the 1st and 2nd Armies, ending the German advance into France.[3] The German army retreated north of the Aisne River and dug in there, establishing the beginnings of a static western front that was to last for the next three years. Following this German setback, the opposing forces tried to outflank each other in the Race for the Sea, and quickly extended their trench systems from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier.[4]

In the lead up to Christmas 1914, there were several peace initiatives. The Open Christmas Letter was a public message for peace addressed "To the Women of Germany and Austria", signed by a group of 101 British women suffragists at the end of 1914 as the first Christmas of World War I approached.[5][6] Pope Benedict XV, on 7 December 1914, had begged for an official truce between the warring governments.[7] He asked "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."[8] This attempt was, though, officially rebuffed.[9]

British-German truce

British and German troops meeting in No man's land during the unofficial truce (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector)

Though there was no official truce, about 100,000 British and German troops were involved in unofficial cessations of fighting along the length of the Western Front.[10] The first truce started on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium.[11]

The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The English responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across the 'No Man's Land', where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. The fraternisation was not, however, without its risks; some soldiers were shot by opposing forces. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but it continued until New Year's Day in others.[9]

General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, was irate when he heard what was happening, and issued strict orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops.[10] In the following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to try to ensure that there were no further lulls in the combat. Troops were also rotated through various sectors of the front to prevent them from becoming overly familiar with the enemy. However, situations of deliberate dampening of hostilities also occurred. For example, artillery was fired at precise points, at precise times, to avoid enemy casualties by both sides.[12]

On Christmas Eve 1915, a peace overture came from the German lines. On Christmas Day, after a night of carol singing, Bertie Felstead, a private in the Royal Welch Fusiliers recalled that feelings of goodwill had so swelled up that at dawn Bavarian and British soldiers clambered spontaneously out of their trenches. A football was produced from somewhere – though none could recall from where. "It wasn't a game as such, more a kick-around and a free-for-all. There could have been 50 on each side for all I know. I played because I really liked football. I don't know how long it lasted, probably half an hour."[13]

When Felstead died on 22 July 2001, aged 106, it was believed that he was the last survivor of the truce, until Alfred Anderson was later identified as still living, and having taken part in the truce.[14][15] Anderson subsequently died in Newtyle, Scotland, on 21 November 2005, at the age of 109.[16]

French-German truce

Richard Schirrmann, who was in a German regiment holding a position on the Bernhardstein, one of the mountains of the Vosges, wrote an account of events in December 1915: "When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines ..... something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over." He was separated from the French troops by a narrow no-man’s-land and described the landscape as: "Strewn with shattered trees, the ground ploughed up by shellfire, a wilderness of earth, tree-roots and tattered uniforms." Military discipline was soon restored, but Schirrmann pondered over the incident, and whether "thoughtful young people of all countries could be provided with suitable meeting places where they could get to know each other." He went on to found the German Youth Hostel Association in 1919.[17]

First-hand accounts

Bonhams auction house auctioned, on 7 November 2006, a 10 page letter written by an unknown British soldier. It was bought, for £14,400, by singer Chris de Burgh. The letter records events and incidents with the German forces at Christmas 1914. It is headed "British Expeditionary Force, Friday December 25th 1914." and starts "My Dear Mater, This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend." The letter goes on to say "The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us - wishing us a Happy Christmas etc ... Some of our chaps went over to their lines." It ends "Kind regards to all the neighbours. With much love from Boy."[18][19][20]

Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote "I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. ... I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. ... I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. ... The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck."[21]

Frelinghien memorial

Descendants of Great War veterans, in period uniforms, shake hands at the 2008 unveiling of a memorial to the truce.

A Christmas truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, on 11 November 2008. Also on that day, at the spot where, on Christmas Day 1914, their regimental ancestors came out from their trenches to play football, men from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) played a football match with the German Panzergrenadier Battalion 371. The Germans won, 2-1.[22]

Legacy

The Christmas truce features in many writings, and in popular culture. Several full-length books have been written by both British and German authors. The truce is dramatised in the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël (English: Merry Christmas), and is depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers.[23] The film, written and directed by Christian Carion,[24] was screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.[25]

British folk singer Mike Harding related the story in his song Christmas 1914,[26][27] American folk singer John McCutcheon in his Christmas in the Trenches,[28] and American country music singer Garth Brooks in his track Belleau Wood.[29] The truce also provided the basis for All Together Now, a 1990 song by The Farm which has become a football anthem.[30] The video for Paul McCartney's 1983 song Pipes of Peace depicted the truce.[31]

In the Christmas episode entitled River of Stars from the Fox series Space: Above and Beyond, Joel Delafuente's character narrates the 1914 Christmas truce. He juxtaposes the event against the fact that over the next three years the war became, what was then, the costliest in human history.[32] [33]

References

  1. ^ Willmott, H.P. (2003), World War I, New York: Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 0789496275 
  2. ^ "Daily Mirror Headlines: The Declaration of War, Published 4 August 1914". bbc.co.uk. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/mirror01_01.shtml. Retrieved 9 February 2010. 
  3. ^ Mombauer, Annika (2006). "The Battle of the Marne: Myths and Reality of Germany's "Fateful Battle"". The Historian 68 (4): 747–769. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2006.00166.x. 
  4. ^ * Griffiths, William R. (1986). Thomas E. Griess. ed. The Great War. Wayne, NJ: Avery Publishing Group. ISBN 0895293129. 
  5. ^ Oldfield, Sybil. International Woman Suffrage: November 1914 – September 1916. Taylor & Francis, 2003. ISBN 0415257387. Volume 2 of International Woman Suffrage: Jus Suffragii, 1913–1920, Sybil Oldfield, ISBN 0415257360 p. 46.
  6. ^ Patterson, David S. The search for negotiated peace: women's activism and citizen diplomacy in World War I. Routledge, 2008. ISBN 0415961424 p. 52
  7. ^ "Demystifying the Christmas Truce", Thomas Löwer, The Heritage of the Great War, retrieved 27 December 2009.
  8. ^ "Miracles brighten Christmas", Harrison Daily Times, 24 December 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Remembering a Victory For Human Kindness - WWI's Puzzling, Poignant Christmas Truce", David Brown, The Washington Post, 25 December 2004.
  10. ^ a b "The Truce of Christmas, 1914", Thomas Vinciguerra, The New York Times, 25 December 2005.
  11. ^ Bridget Harris (27 December 2009). "All Together Now for England". The Epoch Times. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/27080/. Retrieved 7 January 2010. 
  12. ^ Axelrod, Robert. 1984. The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.
  13. ^ "Bertie Felstead The last known survivor of no-man's-land football died on July 22nd, aged 106". The Economist. 2 August 2001. http://www.economist.com/obituary/displaystory.cfm?story_id=718781. 
  14. ^ Diana Condell (3 August 2001). "Bertie Felstead - Last survivor of a famous first world war Christmas truce". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2001/aug/03/guardianobituaries1. 
  15. ^ Lorna Martin (19 December 2004). "Last survivor of 'Christmas truce' tells of his sorrow". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/dec/19/christmas.lornamartin. 
  16. ^ The Associated Press (22 November 2005). "Alfred Anderson, 109, Last Man From 'Christmas Truce' of 1914, Dies". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/22/international/europe/22anderson.html. 
  17. ^ Richard Schirrmann: The first youth hosteller: A biographical sketch by Graham Heath (1962, International Youth Hostel Association, Copenhagen, in English).
  18. ^ "Carols, pudding and football: a letter from the trenches on Christmas day in 1914", Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, 8 November 2006.
  19. ^ "WWI truce letter sold for £14,000", BBC News, 8 November 2006.
  20. ^ "Bonhams auction", christmastruce.co.uk, retrieved 28 December 2009.
  21. ^ "Bullets & Billets by Bruce Bairnsfather", Project Gutenberg, retrieved 31 December 2009.
  22. ^ "Soldiers take part in commemorative football match", Ministry of Defence, 14 November 2008.
  23. ^ "Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) (2005) A Christmas Truce Forged by Germans, French and Scots". New York Times. 3 March 2006. http://movies.nytimes.com/2006/03/03/movies/03noel.html. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  24. ^ "Joyeux Noël (2005)". IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/. Retrieved November 11, 2009. 
  25. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Joyeux Noël". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/4283384/year/2005.html. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  26. ^ "Mike Harding". Pride of Manchester. http://www.prideofmanchester.com/music/MikeHarding.htm. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  27. ^ "Christmas 1914". Mike Harding. http://www.mikeharding.co.uk/books/other/bombers/xmas1914/xmas1914.html. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  28. ^ Donetta Godsey (4 December 2009). "Kiwanis Club, McCutcheon offer unique gift". The Winfield Daily Courier. http://www.winfieldcourier.com/articles/2009/12/04/news/news/doc4b19539fc0c4b789339554.txt. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  29. ^ Bill Bell (4 December 2009). "DOIN' IT BY THE BROOKS SURE, GARTH IS FORMULAIC, BUT THIS ALBUM IS SURE TO SEND FANS TO 'SEVENS' HEAVEN". New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/entertainment/1997/11/30/1997-11-30_doin__it_by_the_brooks_sure_.html. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  30. ^ Patrick Barkham (8 May 2004). "All Together Now for England". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/may/08/arts.football. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  31. ^ Daphne Lee (12 July 2009). "Monsters in our minds". Malaysia Star. http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2009/7/12/lifebookshelf/4220546&sec=lifebookshelf. Retrieved 39 March 2010. 
  32. ^ "The River of Stars Space: Above and Beyond, episode 11 (1.11)". Space: Above and Beyond. 28 Jun 2006. http://saab.epguides.info/?ID=1196. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  33. ^ "River of Stars". Space: Above and Beyond. December 17, 1995. No. 12, season 1.

Further reading

  • Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton; Christmas Truce: The Western Front, 1914 (1984), ISBN 978-0330390651
  • Marc Ferro, Malcolm Brown, Rémy Cazals, Olaf Mueller: Meetings in No Man's Land: Christmas 1914 and Fraternization in the Great War (2007, Constable, London) ISBN 978-1-84529-513-4 (Translation of Frères des Trancheés, Edition Perrin, France, 2005)
  • Michael Jürgs: Der kleine Frieden im Großen Krieg: Westfront 1914: als Deutsche, Franzosen und Briten gemeinsam Weihnachten feierten. Goldmann, München 2005, ISBN 3-442-15303-4
  • Stanley Weintraub; Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce (2001), ISBN 978-0452283671

External links

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The Christmas 1915 Football Game occurred during a First World War Christmas truce. British and German soldiers gathered in no man's land for an impromptu game of football.

Contents

Christmas Eve

The Royal Welch Fusiliers reportedly heard the Germans of the Central Powers singing Silent Night from across No Man's Land (the empty land between the Entente and Central Powers' trenches). The Royal Welch Fusiliers then sang back Good King Wenceslas.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, after some shouting between both trenches, the Royal Welch Fusiliers got out of their icy trench and greeted the Germans. Bertie Felstead, a Corporal in the Fusiliers, recalled that the Germans probably were already out of their trench before the British got out. He claimed that nothing was planned and that what happened was entirely spontaneous.[1] A football was produced from somewhere – though none could recall from where. "It was not a game as such – more of a kick-around and a free-for-all. There could have been 50 on each side for all I know. I played because I really liked football. I don’t know how long it lasted, probably half-an-hour, and no-one was keeping score."[2]

End of Peace

The truce ended when a British major ordered the British soldiers back to their trench with a reminder that "they were there to kill the Hun not to make friends with him." The mood of Christmas friendliness was shortly broken by the firing of British artillery.

Participants

Legacy

The game was referenced in the popular British sitcom Blackadder Goes Forth.Template:Fact In July of 2001, the last living participant of the football game, Bertie Felstead died aged 106.[3]

See also

References

  1. ::Christmas 1915 World War One::
  2. Bertie Felstead|url|http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/christmas-1915-world-war-one.htm
  3. Bertie Felstead, 106, Soldier Who Joined a Timeout in War|url|http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0CE2D8103DF933A05754C0A9679C8B63

Christmas 1915 Football Game


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