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Q: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914 ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: hudson344-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 25 Mar 2004 13:58 PST
Expires: 24 Apr 2004 14:58 PDT
Question ID: 320516
Hi. I would like a few things, if you can. In the simplest terms, a
rundown of the lead up to the war in terms of the various treaties and
tensions simmering in Europe at the time. Of course I have a basic
sense of the complexities, but the historical perspective that leads
to the poweder-keg is something else entirely. But I must stress that
I would like it to be somewhat concise.
The second part of my question is slightly more complex. Could you
prepare a paper for me that is as detailed as possible on the
Christmas Truce which occured on the Belgian front in 1914. A
chronolgy, and a sense of how the truce held and how it broke down,
and the results.
This is a subject I know something about, but having a precis of it
close at hand would be very helpful. I would also like you to include
any contemporary commentary you could find on the Christmas truce.
What was the press reaction?
The third part of my question concerns war reporters at the front; how
fast could they gettheir dispatches to editors? How does this compare
to what we now called "embeded troops?

Clarification of Question by hudson344-ga on 25 Mar 2004 14:21 PST
Also as part of the Christmas truce answer, something about the Indian
Unit - the Sikh and Hindus. what did they make of this entire

Request for Question Clarification by kriswrite-ga on 25 Mar 2004 17:31 PST
Hello Hudson~ 

I am working on your question, and have run into a bit of a road bump.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 was actually a series of informal
truces...the key being informal. There is no record of all the truces,
nor when most truces began or stopped. Therefore, a chronology isn't
really possible.

Unless you tell me otherwise, I will answer your question without that
chronology, but with all the other info you seek.

Thank you,

Clarification of Question by hudson344-ga on 25 Mar 2004 18:16 PST
Dear Kris
Yes, I am asking for something impossible, as pertains to a chrnology.
The truces were informal, evanescent even, but I am trying to mold a
structure out of them, as it were. What was the movement of a truce,
in musical terms, if you will? The collection of bodies followed by
the exchange of gifts -- etc - I am looking for a kind structure for
the ritual of it. Even if it was informal, it feels ritualized. Does
that make any sense?
I'm looking for an impression, merely that,  gathered by a
reasearcher, to weigh against my own impression.  Anything helps.
All best,
Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
Answered By: kriswrite-ga on 25 Mar 2004 20:30 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi Hudson~

Thank you for your clarification. I?ve addressed your questions in
three parts. If you need any clarification, please don?t hesitate to
let me know before you rate my Answer.


?In the simplest terms, a rundown of the lead up to the war in terms
of the various treaties and tensions simmering in Europe at the
time?the historical perspective that leads to the poweder-keg... But I
must stress that I would like it to be somewhat concise.?

The first rumblings of what would one day be WWI perhaps began as
early as 1839, when England, along with a number of other European
powers, signed a pact with Belgium. This was the first of a long
series of treaties, which, through implication and fear, pit nation
against nation. Austria then lost two wars, one with France, and one
with Prussia. The Franco-Prussian war left France weak?and
relinquishing land to Germany. The French were bitter, and began
focusing on arms and military power, developing the draft and a formal
?war college.?
Then,  the Dual Alliance was struck between Germany and
Austria-Hungary; Bismarck wanted to protect Austria-Hungary from the
Russians. Germany wanted to protect themselves against a collapsing
Austria-Hungary, which would find their borders busting with Russians.

The Three Emperor?s League was formed in 1881. ?This was an attempt to
restore stability to eastern Europe by bringing Russia into the fold
of the Dual Alliance. It was not to be successful.? (?The Deadly
Alliances,? Trenches on the Web, )
That same year, the Austro-Serbian Alliance was formed, in an effort
to limit Russian influence in the Balkans.

Italy, Germany, and Austria formed the Triple Alliance in 1882. It?s
purpose was to prevent Italy from attacking Austria-Hungary in the
event of war with Russia. That same year, the Russian Reinsurance
Treaty was formed.

The following year, The Austro-German-Romanian Alliance was formed,
very much along the lines of the Serbian Alliance. Wilhelm I died in
1888 and Wilhelm II become Kaiser. In 1890, Germany did not renew the
Russian Reinsurance treaty. In 1892, the Franco-Russian Alliance began
and shortly after, the countries agreed to help each other if
threatened by the Triple Alliance. (This alliance ?was the Russian
reaction to several events of the day:  New German Chancellor Caprivi
drops the  Russian Reinsurance Treaty; Germany renews The Triple
Alliance; Germany also gets friendly with the Mediterranean Entente
(Britain, Italy and Spain against Russia and France).?

The Russo-Bulgarian Military Convention saw Bulgaria ally itself with
Russia, fearful of Austro-Hungarian aggression. In 1904, the Entente
Cordiale (between Great Britain and France) was formed. In 1907, the
Anglo-Russian Entente saw Britain and Russia ?having settled their
differences, take this final step toward the Triple Entente.? That
year, the Triple Entente ?arose from the prior ententes between these
three powers and as a reaction to: Worsening relations between Germany
and Great Britain due to the Naval arms race; Germany's attempt to
exploit the Russian loss of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. This final
alliance drew the lines for the war that would follow. Germany's worst
fears of encirclement were realized and a two front war had been made
a certainty.?

Countries were feeling very insecure, threatened left and right. Fear
made them develop detailed military plans ?just in case? they were
attacked, and each country was very well aware of the other?s
preparedness to wage war. Tension was great. Then, on June 28, 1914, 
Franz Ferdinand (Austro-Hungarian Archduke) was assassinated. A
decisive action was thought needed in order to prove Austria strong.
But the assassins were connected to Serbia, and Serbia was an ally of
Russia. Austria-Hungary knew it needed German support. Foreign
Minister Berchtold sent a note to Berlin stating that Serbia "must be
eliminated as a power factor in the Balkans." Wilhelm gave his
support.  The war began shortly thereafter.

?Could you prepare a paper for me that is as detailed as possible on
the Christmas Truce which occured on the Belgian front in 1914. A
chronolgy, and a sense of how the truce held and how it broke down,
and the results?I would also like you to include any contemporary
commentary you could find on the Christmas truce. What was the press
reaction? Also as part of the Christmas truce answer, something about
the Indian Unit - the Sikh and Hindus. what did they make of this
entire business??

Around Christmas, 1914, a number of truces along the trench-lines of
France and Belgium took place. They involved not just the Germans and
the Brits, but also the French, Belgians, and the Indian troops.
Interestingly, Christmas began with the British believing the enemy
would probably attack on Christmas or New Year?s. But perhaps the
Brits underestimated the German love of Christmas--or that andthey
might take so seriously Pope Benedict XV?s request for peace on
Christmas day.

It all began when Germans brought Christmas trees (still more popular
in Germany than in England) to the trenches, decorating them with
candles and miscellaneous items.  That evening, the Christmas lights
made the opposing troops nervous, and some accounts indicate fires
were shot toward the Germans?-but overall, the opposing troops
remained quiet and watchful. As the Germans sang ?Silent Night? and
other Christmas carols, their enemies? slowly began to lower the

During the Christmas truces, the Germans were generally the ones to
reach out to their enemies, often crossing No Man?s Land. Other times,
calls were made out: ?Tommy, come over here and talk to us!? To which
the British usually replied, ?Fritz, you come over here!? until two
brave souls met in No Man?s Land. In some cases, Germans held up
signs: ?We no fire, you no fire,? or their enemies held up a sign that
read ?Merry Christmas.?

In one famous case, the English Bedfordshire regiment played football
(soccer) with the Germans. The game ended when the make-shift ball hit
some barbed wire and deflated.

In a few unusual instances, burials were held for soldiers on both
sides, which led to fraternizing between troops, and unofficial truce.

Some contacts were made on Christmas Eve, but most came on Christmas
Day. At least a few times, the Germans brought a friendly
token?-beer?-along with them. Family photographs were sometimes
shared, along  with tobacco or food.  The Royal Welsh Fusiliers were
ordered to stay in their trenches, but tossed jam and bully beef
toward the Germans and shouted ?Merry Christmas.?

The truces ended by mutual consent. Sometimes an official hour was
named for when the truce would end. (Some ending as late as New
Year?s.) Other times, one soldier would climb to his parapet, followed
by a soldier on the opposite side. Some reports say they saluted each
other to signal the end of a short-lived peace, then climbed back down
into the trenches and began fighting again.

Historians have tried to determine whether or not the truces were
organized beforehand. There is no evidence of this. So why did the
truces happen?

It is agreed that the Christmas truces were not the first unofficial
truces during war time. Such things had happened during previous wars,
and even during WWI, truces were called so that both sides could bury
their dead.

Historian Jennifer Rosenberg notes that before The Christmas Truce, it
had been raining fiercely. The troops were caked in mud, and nobody
had energy to do much but lay there and be rained upon. ?Restless in
their trenches, covered in mud, and eating the same rations every day,
some soldiers began to wonder about the un-seen enemy, men declared
monsters by propagandists,? Rosenberg states. (?Peace in No Man?s
Land? by Jennifer Rosenberg,,
) She sites soldier Leslie Walkinton saying, ?We hated their guts when
they killed any of our friends; then we really did dislike them
intensely. But otherwise we joked about them and I think they joked
about us. And we thought, well, poor so-and-sos, they're in the same
kind of muck as we are.? The shared uncomfortable situation, Rosenberg
suggests, created a ?live and let live? attitude among the troops.

There was also a sense, going into WWI, that the war would end
soon?-by Christmas, many people said. Surely, as Christmas rolled
around and the war was clearly not ending, this inspired common
soldiers. Author Malcom Brown discourages the idea that The Christmas
Truce was a sort of protest of the common soldier. Rather, Brown says,
officers participated, too, and initiated the truces fairly readily.
So the excuse of ?peace activism? cannot quite be leveled.

Whatever the case, the end result of The Christmas Truce was a firmer
front. Afraid of what might happen if the Brits and Germans got
friendly, Sir John French and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien never allowed
something similar to happen again. French stated, ?I issued immediate
orders to prevent any recurrence of such conduct, and called the local
commanders to strict account, which resulted in a good deal of
trouble.? Smith-Dorrien concluded, ?The Corps Commander, therefore,
directs Divisional Commanders to impress on all subordinate commanders
the absolute necessity of encouraging the offensive spirit of the
troops, while on the defensive, by every means in their power.
Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices (e.g. 'we
won't fire if you don't' etc.) and the exchange of tobacco and other
comforts, however tempting and occasionally amusing they may be, are
absolutely prohibited.?  (?The Christmas Truce,? by Michael Duffy,
First World War,

In all the following Christmases of WWI, artillery bombardments were
ordered on Christmas Eve. In addition, troops were rotated to prevent
the them from becoming too familiar with enemy troops.

Word of the truces reached the home front in January 1915, in the form
of soldiers? letters. The newspapers quickly picked up on these
accounts, and even reprinted some letters. The British papers stressed
that the truces were fleeting, and the French and German governments
denied they ever happened. Headlines included: ?Extraordinary
Unofficial Armistice,? and ?British, Indians and Germans shake hands.?
The press was mostly favorable and the media--as well as everyone else
back home--was astounded.

?The Illustrated London News? for January 9, 1915 reported: ?The
spirit of Christmas made itself felt in at least one section of the
trenches at the front, where British and German soldiers fraternised,
and for a brief while, during an informal and spontaneous truce, there
was ?peace on earth and goodwill towards men? among those who a few
hours before had been seeking each other's blood, and where bound to
do so again after the truce was over. The part of the British lines
where these incongruous scenes occurred, was, it is said, at a point
where the enemy's trenches, only about eighty yards away, were
occupied by a Saxon regiment. Further along the line, where Prussian
troops were said to be stationed, there was a certain amount of
fighting. It was apparently towards the British left that the friendly
truce was observed, while officers and men from both sides left their
trenches and met in No Man's Land between, where, as a rule, no man
dares to show so much as the top of his head. British and Germans met
and shook hands, exchanged cigars and cigarettes, newspapers and
addresses, and wished each other the compliments of the season,
conversing as far as possible with the aid, as interpreter, of a
German soldier who had lived in America. A group of British and German
soldiers, arm-in-arm, some of whom had exchanged head-gear, were
photographed by a German officer. The figure on the extreme left in
our drawing, for instance, is a German soldier in a British
service-cap, while the fourth figure from the left is a British
soldier in his goat-skin coat wearing a Pickelhaube, or German helmet.
Some of the British, it is said visited the German trenches and an
Anglo-German football match was even played. The dead who lay in front
of the trenches were buried, and a party of German brought back they
body of a British officer.? ?The Christmas Truce of 1914,? Harold B.
Lee Library,

?The Hampshire Chronicle? of Saturday, January 2, 1915, reported:  ?We
have been privileged to read a letter, received in Winchester only
this morning, describing something of the remarkable state of affairs
which prevailed at the front on Christmas Day. It is from a gallant
officer known to ourselves, whose Regiment spent their Christmas Day
in the trenches. The writer says: 'I had a most extraordinary
Christmas and I have come to the conclusion that I would not have
spent it out of the trenches for worlds. We went in on Christmas Eve,
under the usual conditions of this sniping warfare and carried on as
usual during the night. As soon as it got light, however, the sniping
died down on both sides and by sunrise had ceased altogether. The
complete silence was most weird, and I could not help thinking that
this sort of mutual agreement would turn into an open truce. So it
did. Encouraged by the absence of lead in the air, heads soon began
popping up on both sides. Then came cat-calls, whistles and epithets,
till finally one of the Huns, stood up on his parapet and waved his
hands. In five minutes, the ground between the opposing trenches was
full of Germans, --s, and --Highlanders, exchanging cigars, tar
cigarettes, and many other small luxuries. I went out myself, with one
other officer of my Company, and we fixed things up, as far as we were
concerned, with the German officers opposite. We talked in French,
since they could not talk our 'lingo', nor we theirs. I enclose a
photo (a postcard portrait of two German soldiers, presented
themselves) by way of a souvenir of a most weird proceeding. They told
me it was taken at Lille and I have written below what I understood
their names to be. The funny part of the whole show was that we were
in the trenches all Saturday and Sunday, and, when we left, the truce
was still continuing. Up to the time we left, not a shot had been
fired by either side. Though there were no more meetings, both sides
used to walk about their parapets, and men could do up their barbed
wire just as if they were putting up a fence round their gardens at

"The letter proceeds to explain that this work has usually to be done
at nights and gives further particulars of what must have been a
wonderfully interesting and novel situation.?

The following week, "The Chronicle" included a letter from Private Wm.
J. Cook, of the 1st Battn, Hampshire Regiment: ?We had a truce
yesterday (Christmas Day) to bury our dead and attended burial
services on the ground between the opposing armies. The German
officer, who spoke a few words of the Burial Service thanked us
English for assisting to collect their dead and for the truce to bury
them on that day. I had several chats with the Germans, who were
composed of odds and ends of all regiments. They have been buoyed up
with news that everything is going well with them and one told me that
the Russian army was a walk-over. I did my best to enlighten him as to
the true state of affairs and I thought it was going to end up with a
scrap between him and me, but one of his mates had got on to him for
arguing and we passed it off by exchanging chocolates and
cigarettes."? (?Looking Back: The Christmas Truce of 1914? The
Hampshire Chronicle,

Indeed, eye witness reports abounded: ?Time and again during the
course of that day,? said one Lt. Kennedy, ?the Eve of Christmas,
there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of
singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a
German were to be heard shouting out lustily, 'A happy Christmas to
you Englishmen!' Only too glad to show that the sentiments were
reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider,
'Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o'er eat yourself wi' they sausages!'?
(cited by Rosenberg;

On the German side, Lt. Johannes Neimann of  the 133rd Royal Saxon
Regiment said, ?? suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to
say that both the German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their
trenches and were fraternising along the front. I grabbed my
binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible
sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate
with the enemy.  Later a Scottish soldier appeared with a football
which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real
football match got underway.  The Scots marked their goal mouth with
their strange caps and we did the same with ours.  It was far from
easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping
rigorously to the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour
and that we had no referee.  A great many of the passes went wide, but
all the amateur footballers, although they must have been very tired,
played with huge enthusiasm.? (Cited by Tom Morgan in ?The Christmas
True, 1914,? )

According to authors Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, one British
soldier said: ?Just you think, that while you were eating your turkey,
etc, I was out talking and shaking hands with the very men I had been
trying to kill a few hours before! It was astounding!? A German
soldier concluded: ?It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity
that it was not decisive peace.? (?The Christmas Truce? by Malcolm
Brown, BBC News,

Andy Callan reiterates his grandfather?s report:  ?December 25, 1914.
Our pioneer sergeant, Nobby Hall, made a screen and painted on it 'A
Merry Christmas', which we hoisted on Christmas morning. No shots were
fired. On the left we could see that our fellows were carrying their
breakfast in the open, and everything was quiet. Both sides got a bit
venturous and looked over the top. Then a German started to walk down
the towpath towards our lines and Ike Sawyer went to meet him. The
German handed over a box of cigars." (?My grandad's WWI Christmas
truce,? by Andy Callan, BBC News, )

?Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that the soldiers in both lines
of trenches have become very 'pally' with each other,? Andrew Todd
wrote. ?The trenches are only 60 yards apart at one place, and every
morning about breakfast time one of the soldiers sticks a board in the
air. As soon as this board goes up all firing ceases, and men from
either side draw their water and rations. All through the breakfast
hour, and so long as this board is up, silence reigns supreme, but
whenever the board comes down the first unlucky devil who shows even
so much as a hand gets a bullet through it.? (Cited by Rosenberg,

Another soldier reported: ?They finished their carol and we thought
that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang 'The first Nol',
and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they
struck up another favourite of theirs, 'O Tannenbaum'. And so it went
on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would
sing one of ours, until when we started up 'O Come All Ye Faithful'
the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin
words 'Adeste Fidles'. And I thought, well, this was really a most
extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the
middle of a war.7 (Cited by Rosenberg,

Gunner Herbert Smith, 5th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, said: ?On
Christmas Eve there was a lull in the fighting, no firing going on at
all after 6 p.m. The Germans had a Christmas tree in the trenches and
Chinese lanterns all along the top of a parapet. Eventually the
Germans started shouting, ?Come over, I want to speak to you.? Our
chaps hardly knew how to take this, but one of the 'nuts' belonging to
the Regiment got out of the trench and started to walk towards the
German lines. One of the Germans met him about half-way across, and
they shook hands and became quite friendly. In due time the 'nut' came
back and told the others all about it. So more of them took it in
turns to go and visit the Germans. The officer commanding would not
allow more than three men at a time. I went out myself on Christmas
Day and exchanged some cigarettes for cigars, and this game had been
going on from Christmas Eve till midnight on Boxing Day without a
single round being fired.?  (Cited by Tom Morgan in ?The Christmas
True, 1914,? )

Corporal John Ferguson?s account: ?We shook hands, wished each other a
Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for
years.  We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by
Germans - Fritz and I in the centre talking, and Fritz occasionally
translating to his friends what I was saying.  We stood inside the
circle like street-corner orators. Soon most of our company ('A'
Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us ...
What a sight - little groups of Germans and British extending almost
the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter
and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman's cigarette and
vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs.  Where they couldn't
talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and
everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and
chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!?
(cited by Duffy, ?The Christmas Truce,? First World War, )

More contemporary accounts may be found in the links above. Although
you ask what the Indian troops thought of all this, according to The
British Council (and others) they were involved directly in the
Christmas truces. (See ?The Christmas Truce,? British Council
They were just as mystified?-and pleased and confused?-as their
British, French, and Belgian counterparts.

?The third part of my question concerns war reporters at the front; how
fast could they get their dispatches to editors? How does this compare
to what we now called "embeded troops??

Even American reporters?-those with perhaps the most freedom to
report?-were not on the front lines during some of WWI. The military
took all the "news" photographs, and sent them back home--if approved.
Any war reports were given to the press. Later, when civilians were
allowed on the fields, their work generally had to be approved by the
military or government; the fear was that a reporter would
inadvertently let sensitive information out to the enemy. Quite a
foreign concept in this day and age of reporting live from the battle

Whole stories could be sent via telegraph, so speed wasn?t really an
issue. Even though some governments (like the U.S.) monitored
telegraph messages, this would not have slowed down the news much.

In most cases, the news was between a few days and a week or so behind
the actual events. Clearly, this is quite a bit more slow--and
controlled--than today?s "embedded" media, who report the actions of
the military as they happen-?sometimes even before they happen!

"What lead to" WWI

WWI "what caused"

?Christmas Truce?

"Christmas Truce" newspapers

"Christmas Truce" Indian*

"reaction to" "Christmas truce"

WWI reporters

newspapers WWI

war correspondent* WWI

"war correspondent" WWI

WWI journalist*

WWI censorship
hudson344-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $25.00
Five stars. This is lovely, precise, and very helpful work. It's
everything I asked for.  I am truly pleased. The researcher has
ordered and organized some very knotted and dense date in a very short
period, literally within hours.

Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
From: probonopublico-ga on 26 Mar 2004 01:01 PST
Yes, Kristina, You have produced a masterpiece.

Well done!
Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
From: kriswrite-ga on 26 Mar 2004 07:14 PST
Hudson, thank you very much for the terrific rating--and the tip! It
is much appreciated.


P.S. And thank you, my dear probonopublico, for your praise. :)
Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
From: hudson344-ga on 26 Mar 2004 09:39 PST
Kris -
If I ask another question - could I request you - ? Or will you look out for it?
Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
From: kriswrite-ga on 26 Mar 2004 15:44 PST
Hudson, I would be honored to try to answer another of your questions.
Just address it to me, and if for some reason I can't answer it, we
can open it up to anybody. As you prefer :)

Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
From: hudson344-ga on 26 Mar 2004 16:11 PST
To Kriswrite-ga -
Okay, here goes.  But how do I address it to you specifically - is
there somewhere on the form for me to do that?  (I mean  should this
not be an entirely new question - so you can be paid? I don't want to
piggy back a free ride on your already scruulous work - )
British officer training for WW I - where? What? How?
Subject: Re: WORLD WAR I - The Christmas truce of 1914
From: hudson344-ga on 26 Mar 2004 16:22 PST
I just posted a new question -

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