25/12/1915 Christmas on the Western Front

It is Christmas Day. On the Western Front, the high commands of both sides are determined that there will be no repeat of the informal truces of last year. Orders are issued forbidding fraternisation with the enemy in the sternest terms. Heavier than usual artillery bombardments are ordered to keep the soldiers hunkered down in their own trenches.

And yet, in some parts of the line there are instances of Christmas cheer overwhelming the martial spirits of the troops. These local truces mainly occur where British soldiers face the Germans, as the French and Belgians are less inclined to fraternise with the invaders of their countries.

In northern France, near the village of Laventie, British and German troops sing Christmas hymns to each other at night and then in the morning they leave their trenches and meet in No Man’s Land. After exchanging gifts and souvenirs, someone produces a football and the men start playing. “It wasn’t a game as such, more of a kick-around and free-for-all,” recalled British soldier Bertie Felstead later. “There could have been fifty on each side. No one was keeping score”.

At Laventie the fun stops when an irate major appears to remind the British that they are there to fight the Germans, not make friends with them.

Laventie appears to be the only place where the British and Germans played football but other shortlived truces occur elsewhere, usually brought to a halt in a similar manner by angry officers. Then the war resumes.

The 1915 truces will not be as remembered and mythologised as those of 1914, but they have their adherents.

image source:

Bertie Felstead (History Learning Site)

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