There is still much debate about what really happened during the Christmas Truce of 1914. Using soldiers’ diaries from our Collection we explore some of the details of this historic event.

The truce of Christmas 1914 was not a single co-ordinated affair, but a series of unofficial truces along parts of the Western Front. Although it was fairly widespread, much fighting continued across France and Belgium.

Some were organised on Christmas Eve, while others occurred on Christmas Day itself. Some men decided to observe a ceasefire without making contact with the enemy. Others met in no-man’s land, and a few even played games of football together.

Soldiers often used black humour to break the ice. With trench-to-trench banter, they would shout things like ‘You missed!’ or ‘Left a bit!’.

The National Army Museum holds the diary of Rifleman William Eve, whose entry for 25 December 1914 reads:

‘At beginning of day respect for Xmas shown. On both sides fellows stood on the parapet and shouted across greetings to each other. When it got light everybody strolled about conversed with the Germans, exchanged souvenirs, played football, and not a shot fired all day or night.’

Many diaries mention that soldiers sang Christmas carols in the trenches. During ceasefires they would also take the time to collect and bury their fallen comrades in no-man’s land, and hold religious services for them.

Another diary entry, written by Lieutenant-Colonel Schoolbred on 31 December 1914, says:

‘On Xmas Eve our friends opposite us began to blow bugles and set up candle illuminations on the top of their trenches, and they and our own people shouted across “Xmas Greetings”.’

Senior officers did not approve of their men fraternising with the enemy. Front-line soldiers were ordered not to communicate or indulge in any friendly relations with the Germans, but in some places the ceasefire continued until after New Year’s Day.

Many question why this type of truce never happened again on the same scale. Some point out that a lot of the men at the front at this time were professional soldiers who respected, rather than hated, their opponents. Additionally, soldiers on both sides shared the same conditions in the trenches. Mass conscription, propaganda and atrocity stories about their opponents had yet to change this outlook.

The Christmas Truce remains a powerful tale of hope and humanity despite taking place during one of history’s darkest times.

Hear another first-hand account of the Christmas Truce in our latest Soldier’s Story.

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