Friday, December 30, 2011

The Christmas Eve Truce: 12.24.1914

The lines of the infamous Western Front of WWI

Five months after the start of World War I, a spontaneous truce crept into the enemy trenches along the Western Front. It was a brief cease fire that lasted about 24 hours and was filled with the singing of Christmas carols. This was Christmas Eve, 1914. 
The Western Front stretched across parts of Belgium, France and Germany and included soldiers from those countries as well as England. In the first year of the war, over 1 million soldiers would die along the Western Front.

To see a truce break out amidst this death land, a truce that was not created by any government but one that was created by the soldiers in those trenches, is a truly extraordinary thing.

Photo: Lt. Cyril Drummond (Imperial War Museums, London)
The photo (right) was taken on Christmas Day, 1914 in the "no man's land" between the two lines of enemy trenches. It includes English soldiers (from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers) and German soldiers near St. Yvon in the Ypres Salient.


In the trenches (LLT.org)
The Christmas Eve truce is not the only time such a cease-fire has been called, but it is the most famous. A part of what sometimes is referred to as the "live and let live" system, such informal truces can emerge from the heat of war (http://www.iwm.org.uk). 

One book that discusses such circumstances during World War I is Trench Warfare, 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System (Ashworth). 

Another good resource about the Christmas Truce is Long, Long Trail (LLT.org) which presents a detailed chronology of the truce and the events that lead up to it (starting from Dec. 5, 1918) as well as after (through December 31). This resource also can tell you which British regiments were there and the names of the soldiers.

Here is a video documenting the Christmas Eve Truce (video by PBS.org):



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