Christmas, 1914 – A Brief Interlude of Peace

Contributed by Marilyn McPhie

It was December 25, 1914.  World War I was five months old, and already there were more than a million casualties. There was fierce fighting everywhere, it seemed.  Soldiers had spent their days surrounded by the sound of bullets.  But it was Christmas.  And that changed everything.

Some have said that the Christmas truce was more myth than fact, but several first-hand accounts tell us that it really happened.

Here’s one account from a Scottish soldier fighting on the front lines.

Private Cunningham – a member of the 5th Scottish Rifles – wrote this to a friend:

“On Christmas Eve the firing practically ceased.  I think both sides understood we were going to have a day off. Through the night we sang carols to one another, the German lines were only a hundred yards away, so we heard each other quite plainly. This went on all night.

“When dawn arrived, we started putting our head above the parapet and waved to each other. On our left was a brewery occupied by the Germans and to our surprise we saw a German come out and hold his hand up, behind him were two rolling a barrel of beer. They came halfway across and signed to us to come for it.

“Three of us went out, shook hands with them, wished them a merry Christmas, and rolled the barrel to our own trenches amid the cheers of both British and Germans! After that it was understood that peace was declared for a day. We both got out of our trenches and met in the middle of the field, wished each other seasons’ greetings. .  . . 

“We had a most interesting day.”

And what did the Germans report about that day?  Here’s one account:

“Next morning the mist was slow to clear and suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both the German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternizing along the front. I grabbed my binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy.

“Later, a Scottish soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. The Scots marked their goal mouth with their strange caps and we did the same with ours.

“It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour and that we had no referee. A great many of the passes went wide, but all the amateur footballers, although they must have been very tired, played with huge enthusiasm.

“Us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts – and hooted and whistled every time they caught an impudent glimpse of one posterior belonging to one of ‘yesterday’s enemies’. But after an hour’s play, when our commanding officer heard about it, he sent an order that we must put a stop to it. A little later we drifted back to our trenches and the fraternization ended.

“The game finished with a score of three goals to two in favor of Fritz against Tommy.”

Years later, soldiers on both sides would reflect on that remarkable day.  In the midst of fear, hatred, and fierce fighting, for one day there was peace.

In today’s world, there is still fear, hatred, and fighting – but if we are willing to put all that aside, there can be peace.  Perhaps it will be only for a day, but perhaps it can be forever.