The Christmas Truce of WWI
It might not seem possible that love can exist in the midst of war or that it has the power to stop the bloodiest conflicts even for a moment, but that’s exactly what happened during the Christmas truce of WWI. What happened over the course of December 24-25, 1914 in northern France seems absolutely surreal to everyone except the men who were there. In the end, it became a vivid reminder that the common needs of the human spirit are stronger than what divides us, and that even in the most dire situations we can always choose love.
Four months into the WWI, raging battles in northern France had expanded the western front into a continuous line reaching from the English Channel to the Swiss border. Continuous conflicts in the stifling summer heat were wearing heavily on munitions and motivation for both sides so that by Christmas Eve of 1914 something incredible happened between the British and German lines near Ypris, Belgium.
Although December 24th began like any other day with the usual fighting, it waned as the hours wore on. At one point, British troops reported hearing Christmas carols being sung from the German trenches. This was possible because in many places, the battle lines were less than 70 yards apart. Thinking it was a trick, the British sent out two more shells, but the singing continued. As Christmas Eve officially arrived, British Private Mullard described what the Brits saw next.
“…trees stuck on top of the [German] trenches, lit up with candles, and all of the men sitting on top of the trenches. So of course we got out of ours and passed a few remarks, inviting each other to come over and have a drink and a smoke, but we did not like to trust each other at first.”
The British troops’ apprehension is understandable considering the amount of war propaganda they had been exposed to describing the Germans as barbarians and yet, there the Germans were initiating a moment of peace in the middle of a war. The Brits joined in on the caroling, and soon both sides were engaged in lively conversations as they shared cigarettes, tobacco, and food among themselves. Their mutual camaraderie over the Christmas holiday led the troops to declare an informal ceasefire between their units.
Celebrations continued into Christmas Day with more singing, gifts of alcohol and food, and sharing in a combined Christmas dinner from their mutual rations. The day also included a game of soccer with a makeshift ball that was mostly a “kick-about” than a real match. Ernie Williams, a private of the 6th Cheshires described it this way.
“I should think there were about a couple hundred taking part…There was no sort of ill will between us.”
The ill will would come from military commanders on both sides who were not happy about what they saw as fraternization with the enemy. New orders were issued, but no punishment was laid down on the troops largely because military leaders did not want the image of Germans and Brits making peace in the middle of a war to reach the public that was heavily under the influence of pro-war propaganda. Instead, the generals allowed the celebration to continue, choosing to use the time to replenish supplies and evaluate their enemy’s position.
On December 26th, both sides agreed upon a mutual signal to resume the conflict. As their new bonds faded, troops were killed, and new ones rotated in, the fighting became bloodier than ever. What stood as a brief moment of peace in the midst of brutal violence, the Christmas truce of 1914 was lost but not forgotten. Today it remains a testament to the power of love in the darkest of circumstances.
Historians continue to debate how the Christmas truce of 1914 happened. Some have speculated that only four months into WW1 perhaps the feelings of animosity hadn’t fully formed on both sides yet. Others think a shared feeling of discomfort about life in the trenches, which would flood often, helped both sides commiserate and bond. There are other theories, of course, but perhaps they just chose love.
JOIN THE MOVEMENT
Subscribe to our newsletter and receive inspirational stories delivered to your inbox that spread love, updates on our movement, and notifications on upcoming deals & events.