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Do You Know About The World War I Christmas Truce Of 1914?

In the middle of World War I’s unrelenting horror, a cease-fire abruptly spread across a sizable portion of the Western Front in December 1914. Massive numbers of lives had already been lost in the war’s early stages, but one occasion—the renowned World War I Christmas Truce of 1914—put an end to the brutality and bloodshed.

It was the war’s first Christmas. If only momentarily, it was a day for peace.

Captain Arthur O’Sullivan of the British army was posted in Rue du Bois, France, the night before Christmas. From the other side of the barracks, he overheard a German accent. “Don’t shoot after 12 o’clock, and we won’t either,” it said. Then, “We won’t fire you English if you come out and talk to us.”

One Irish rifleman checked out the invitation by leaving his trench. Others made their way onto the quiet battlefield after returning safely and receiving a German cigar as a gift. Soldiers converged in the middle of No Man’s Land.

The unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 thus began.


A Welcomed Break For Tired Soldiers

Trench warfare was in full swing by December 1914, and there had already been about 405,000 casualties.

The warring nations declined to establish an official cease-fire when Pope Benedict XV proposed a brief pause for the holiday earlier that month; as a result, the troops decided to lay down their weapons on their own. The forces had time during the Christmas ceasefire to gather and bury their fallen soldiers in the fields. For both sides, this act of respect for the deceased meant a great deal.

So, on Christmas Eve, soldiers along the front lines in France and Belgium heard distant carols. “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (Silent Night, Holy Night) was sung by the German and Allied troops in alternating languages.

More soldiers cautiously started to take part in the festivities. Germans called to the British while holding up lanterns and promising them in shaky English that they wouldn’t shoot. Instead, they sent them holiday greetings. Men from both sides interacted, shook hands, and exchanged food and cigarettes.

Some even claim that during the truce, soccer matches began.


Was Soccer Played?

According to historian Alan Wakefield, “If it happened—and there are very few collaborative accounts—there’s second, third-hand accounts of somebody hearing of a game going on somewhere.” However, there are very few collaborative testimonies. If you’re keeping score, the Germans won the match three to two, according to those who heard about it.

Historians are still skeptical, although there are many accounts that do exist. For instance, some claim that a battle broke out between British and German soldiers close to Ypres, Belgium, while others claim it happened close to Le Touquet, France. Even if such claims cannot be verified, the legend of impromptu soccer matches continues to be a crucial component of the legend surrounding the Christmas Truce of 1914.


The Legacy Of The Truce

This universal gesture of goodwill was not supported by many generals and senior officers. Some regions experienced a very quiet first few days of 1915 without many guns being fired. This was clearly unacceptable behavior during a conflict, according to the military.

On Christmas, the fighting did still happen in certain places. Corporal Clifford Lane of the H Company Hertfordshire Regiment recounts that he was instructed to begin fire after seeing some Germans emerge from the trenches with torches.

But in 1914, circumstances came together in a spectacular way to foster a festive atmosphere. The Great War soldiers were either inexperienced novices or seasoned veterans. They had anticipated that the war would end before Christmas and be brief. The media machine had not stirred up the roiling animosity against the sides, therefore the war wasn’t very “dirty.”

Indeed, despite attempts to impose Christmas truces in 1915 and 1916, the conflict had become so acrimonious by then that any cease-fires were only temporary.