This is a guest post by Souptik Banerjee.
During the First World War in 1914, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. The truces were not unique to the Christmas period and reflected a mood of “live and let live”, where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behavior and often engage in small-scale fraternization, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there were occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there was a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in full view of the enemy.
German and British troops meeting in no man’s land during the unofficial truce
The war, which was supposed to be over in a few weeks’ time, dragged into its fifth month. This led to some discomfort amongst the soldiers on both sides. With this in the background, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas, on December 7, 1914, and he named it “Truce of God”. Also, throughout the month, 460,000 parcels and 2.5 million letters were sent to British soldiers in France. King George V sent a card to every soldier, and his daughter, Princess Mary, lent her name to a fund which sent a small brass box of gifts, including tobacco or writing sets, to serving soldiers. There was thus an atmosphere of peace, in the trenches, by Christmas 1914.
On Christmas Eve 1914, candles and trees went up along parts of the German lines. On Christmas Day, soldiers in some places left their frosty trenches and approached the no man’s land. Their counterparts at the other end reciprocated. They exchanged pleasantries and even souvenirs, drinks and cigarettes.
While this happened in some places, bloody battles continued at others.
There are some references to football matches played on Christmas Day, using bully beef tins as footballs. However, accounts from different places are so similar, including the same final result (3-2 in favor of the British troops), or that it is doubtful that such matches really took place. While some matches might have taken place, there is no credible record against them.
The high command was angry. Informal truces between enemies were ordered to be ceased with immediate effect, with court-martial ordered against defaulters. This, along with brutal developments as the war progressed, ensured that anything similar to the truce of 1914 never happened again.
Souptik Banerjee loves reading and writing. He blogs at raindried.wordpress.com.
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