Pope Benedict XV has urged the warring nations of Europe to cease their senseless slaughter for Christmas. The politicians and senior military commanders have not proved amenable to the Pope’s request, but ordinary soldiers are more sympathetic. On the Western Front, some British and German soldiers suspend hostilities and meet in the No Man’s Land between the trenches. They retrieve bodies of the dead and exchange pleasantries and gifts with their enemies. There are unconfirmed reports of football matches being played between the opposing sides. And it is not just rank and file soldiers who take part in the truces, as some officers go out to meet the enemy. General Walter Congreve writes home that he only decided against taking part himself out of fear that a general would prove too tempting a target for the Germans.
There are other impromptu ceasefires in sectors where the Belgians and French face the Germans. But the ceasefires are not universal. Skirmishing and shelling continue on many parts of the frontline.
Instances of fraternisation also occur between opposing soldiers on the Eastern Front. At besieged Przemysl, the Russians present Christmas trees to the besieged Austro-Hungarians. But there are no Christmas truces between the Austro-Hungarians and the Serbians, perhaps because of the bitterness and savagery of fighting between them.
The Christmas truces will long remain a popular subject for songwriters and supermarket advertising campaigns.
Drawing from Illustrated London News (Wikipedia)
Photograph Q 50719 from the Imperial War Museum (Wikipedia)
The real story behind the 1914 Christmas truce (Daily Telegraph, with General Congreve’s letter)