World War I Christmas Truce of December 1914
December 2014 marked 100 years since the famous Christmas Truce of World War One, a series of spontaneous cease fires initiated by the troops on the ground along the WW I Western Front. These truces occurred in some areas, and were recognized by some troops, but not in all areas by all troops. The cease fires were not condoned by the commanders on either side and were soon halted by orders from superiors to stop fraternizing with the enemy, a treasonous act punishable by death by firing squad, and to get back to fighting. There were no widespread truces reported in the following three years of the war.
As the reports go, the truces were simple; soldiers started singing Christmas carols in the trenches and were heard by the soldiers on the other side. Some soldiers put down their arms and cautiously came out of their trenches. Not getting shot at, they became bolder as more and more soldiers emerged. The two sides cautiously greeted each other and then became more friendly until they were, exchanging cigarettes and small gifts, and playing pick up soccer games with any object that they could kick around. These spontaneous truces were said to last for periods of up to several days, until they were halted by superior officers.
The Christmas truces have been celebrated in film, art, literature, and on TV even though they were not well documented at the time. Reference links to other web sites describing the Christmas truces are given below on this page, in addition to a little quiz describing the truces.
Sappington-Concord Historical Society commemorated the event in its December 2014 display at Oak Bend library (photos below) and with a display in Sappington-Concord Memorial Park at its World War II Honor Roll monument. See photo to the left of that display in front of the World War II Honor Roll.
The displays at the library and in Memorial Park centered on soccer balls representing the pick up soccer games which the German and Allied troops are reported to have played together. Also featured are imaginary recreations of simple Christmas decorations that the troops might have fashioned for themselves using materials they could have found in fields near their trenches or items that may have come in care packages sent to them from the home front. They might have consisted of evergreen branches, dry flowers and grasses, and paper and string decorations. Also included is a soccer ball, representing whatever could be found that could be kicked around for a pick up soccer game.
The small poster below was created with the same materials, and was used in the Oak Bend library display case.
The Christmas Truce true-false quiz
Just for fun! Try the little quiz below about the WWI Christmas Truce
For kids and adults
• What it was about
• Who was involved
• How it happened
• What was verifiably true
_____ 1. The truce was formally negotiated between the commanders of the Germans and the British – French allies.
_____ 2. The truce was spontaneous.
_____ 3. The truce was observed by all.
_____ 4. The truce was observed most widely in 1914, not in the following three years of the war.
_____ 5. In some areas along the front lines, soldiers of both sides stopped fighting, greeted each other, sang together and exchanged souvenirs in no man’s land.
_____ 6. In some areas along the front lines, soldiers of both sides played soccer together in no man’s land.
_____ 7. There were many small independent truces along the front lines in 1914.
Answers to the Christmas Truce quiz
1. The truce was formally negotiated between the commanders of the Germans and the British – French allies. False, the truce was created by troops on the ground and neither the commanders nor the respective governments had anything to do with it. The commanders and governments considered the spontaneous truces to be treasonous.
Wikipedia: “The Christmas truce was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing.”
2. The truce was spontaneous. True, when the fighting of World War One developed into trench warfare, local cease fires became a practical coping mechanism for the troops on the ground. The many Christmas cease fires that took place in December 1914 were the largest instance of spontaneous cease fires.
Wikipedia: “The truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and reflected a growing mood of “live and let live“, where infantry in close proximity would stop overtly aggressive behaviour, and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there would be occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised, or worked in full view of the enemy. The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation – even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable – and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.”
3. The truce was observed by all. False, it was not. Some units refused to get involved. Wikipedia: “However, the peaceful behaviour was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.”
4. The truce was observed most widely in 1914, not in the following three years of the war. True, there were a small number of local cease fires in 1915 but almost none after that. Wikipedia: “The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting fraternization. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the incorporation of poison gas.”
5. In some areas along the front lines, soldiers of both sides stopped fighting, greeted each other, sang together and exchanged souvenirs in no man’s land. True. See number 1 above for supporting reference.
6. In some areas along the front lines, soldiers of both sides played soccer together in no man’s land. True, though the idea that there were organized games on a widespread basis is in doubt.
Wikipedia: “Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most enduring images of the truce.”
7. There were many small independent truces along the front lines in 1914. True, the truces were created by the troops on the ground. See number 1 above for supporting reference.
WWI Christmas Truce featured in Oak Bend library display case in December 2014
The mini poster on the wall of the display case behind the rocking horse’s head featured the WWI Christmas Truce and offered the Christmas Truce quiz. A hard copy version of the quiz was available at the library on the library literature table in the lobby.
Imaginary Christmas decorations that a World War I soldier might have had
Display in front of World War II Honor Roll in Sappington-Concord Memorial Park at Gravois and Sappington Roads shows imaginary decorations that a World War I Alied or German soldier might have had.
Reference websites with further information on the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914.
The following links provide some additional information on the WWI Christmas Truce from other web sites.
Left, a graphic to mark the WWI Christmas truce, originally posted on Mercattours International’s web site, a British tour company.
Left, a collection of photos of the WWI Christmas Truce by a teacher, Mr. Moore, for one of his classes.
Left, a first hand account of the Christmas Truce from a soldier’s letter.
Below, blog entry about, “What the Christmas Truce Can Teach Us 99 Years Later” about peace and understanding.
Below, article from The Guardian about events to commemorate World War I including the Christmas truces. Associated articles also from The Guardian discuss a British general’s report of the truces and another writer, David Boyle, declares the truces were not “political or pacifist,” but that even so there were serious concerns amongst the command structure about the truces.
Below, the letter from a British major describes the Christmas truce that he observed and the complications that were involved.
Below, Wikipedia article on the WWI Christmas truces.
Below, BBC News article reports that part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s World War One commemoration will be a new play, “The Christmas Truce” by playwright Phil Porter.
Left, review of book length poem for children, The Christmas Truce, by Carol Ann Duffy.
Below, blogger attributes the power of music to the start of the WWI Christmas truces.
Below, painting by artist Roy Blakey “The Unofficial Xmas Truce (Belgium) 1914″ oil on paper 2009. Along with the painting is a collection of one line quotes from first hand accounts of the Christmas truces by soldiers in the ranks, also by officers and senior NCO’s.
Below, British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, aired a Christmas ad recreating the WWI Christmas truce in 2014. It was created in partnership with the Royal British Legion. Profits from the sale of a £1 chocolate bar went to a veterans’ charity. See more at: Sainsbury’s Christmas advert recreates first world war truce. See the ad on Youtube. Music in the Sainbury’s ad is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”
Left, the movie “Joyeux Noël ” (English: Merry Christmas) a 2005 French film about the World War I Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers.”
See the movie trailer on Youtube.
See a review of the movie on IMDB.
Left, BBC report on how, “General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of British 2nd Army Corps Expeditionary Force, issued strict warnings to his senior officers about preventing fraternisation with enemy soldiers” after informal truces became common because of the widespread use of trench warfare.
The British TV show “Horrible Histories“ featured the WWI Christmas truce in Series 6, 2015.