"All was calm...."

By Carol Funck, Army Heritage Center FoundationDecember 18, 2009

Winter on the Western Front!
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Winter on the Western Front! Image reflects the "interior of trench in front line showing fire step and a typical trench gate. Ancerviller, Meurthe et Moselle, France. Jan 21st 1919. Photographed by Sgt W. W. Bell." (World War I Miscellaneous Collec... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Winter's Blanket Over The Front Lines!
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Winter' s-Decke über den Frontlinien! (Winter's Blanket Over The Front Lines!) This image reflects "Winter scene in the Argone Forest." This was a German negative salvaged by forces assigned to the U. S. 28th Infantry Division. (World War I Miscella... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Few things can be understood and shared by all cultures across the globe. The Christmas holiday spirit is one of them. A child-like magic exists, where even the most sensible adults can agree that reality pauses for a moment and the simple things in life take center stage. In the December 1914, the Allied and German forces in the trenches of Europe paused as a common yearning for family, friends, and festivities halted fighting for a moment of camaraderie.

The Aca,!A"Christmas TrucesAca,!A? continued through World War I; the best known being that of 1914. On Christmas Eve 1914, various officers of nine British divisions ventured into Aca,!A"no-mans landAca,!A? where they and their German counterparts agreed on truces averaging around 24 hours. During this time, the Soldiers could go about the trenches with ease and enjoy Christmas Day without the threat of attack. At the end of the agreed amount of time, these particular officers bowed to each other from the parapets and the GermanAca,!a,,cs fired two warning shots. With this, the war continued.

Some Aca,!A"Christmas TrucesAca,!A? during the war were not as official as others, and happened in various forms. Early on one December 26, Allied forces paused during their activities when they heard singing drifting across Aca,!A"no-mans landAca,!A? as Bruce Bairnsfather recorded,

Aca,!A"One of my men turned to me and said: Aca,!EoeYou can Aca,!Eoeear Aca,!Eoeem quite plain, sir!Aca,!a,,c Aca,!EoeHear what'Aca,!a,,c I inquired. Aca,!EoeThe Germans over there, sir; you can Aca,!Eoeear Aca,!Eoeem singingAca,!a,,c and playinAca,!a,,c on a band or somethinAca,!a,,c. I listened; -- away out across the field, among the dark shadows beyond, I could hear the murmur of voices, and an occasional burst of some unintelligible song would come floating out on the frosty air.Aca,!A?

Hearing this, Bairnsfather and his men joined the caroling. This simple act of caroling, inspired the Soldiers to voluntarily enter Aca,!A"no-mans landAca,!A? and greet their enemy. During this time they exchanged supplies, souvenirs, and warm hearted wishes. There is one noted occasion where photos of both Allied and German troops were taken. Bairnsfather remembered that Aca,!A"Suddenly, one of the Boches ran back to his trench and presently reappeared with a large camera. I posed in a mixed group for several photographs, and have ever since wished I had fixed up some arrangement for getting a copy.Aca,!A? Other items exchanged included, cigars, cigarettes, tobaccos, and cans of sardines, meats, and vegetables.

Even though most of these truces only lasted a day, many commanding officers were not pleased with spontaneous truces. They sent orders to those commanding field troops to forbid all unofficial truces. Their orders were disobeyed, and the Soldiers in the trenches continued to cease fire on some Holidays.

One German Soldier wrote to a friend on January 3, 1915, Aca,!A"New YearAca,!a,,cs Eve was very queer here. An English officer came across with a white flag and asked for a truce from 11 oAca,!a,,cclock till 3 to bury the dead; just before Christmas there were some fearful enemy attacks here in which the English lost many in killed and prisoners. The truce was granted. It is good not to see the corpses lying out in front of us any more. The truce was moreover extended. The English came out of their trenches into no-manAca,!a,,cs land and exchanged cigarettes, tinned-meat and photographs with our men, and said they didnAca,!a,,ct want to shoot any more. So there is an extraordinary hush, which seems quite uncanny. Our men and theirs are standing up on the parapet above the trenches . . ..Aca,!A?

Overall, these truces did not happen on a regular basis, and as this German Soldier wrote it seemed Aca,!A"uncanny.Aca,!A? These were rare, and welcomed, occurrences for Soldiers from both sides of the trenches, who unlike those stationed in cities and bases, did not have regular mail or more formal festivities.

Each one of the Soldiers in the field during the First World War probably wished they were in any other place for the holidays, except the trenches; but as Bairnsfather wrote:

Aca,!A"I remember a the time being very down on my luck about this, as anything in the nature of Christmas Day festivities was obviously knocked on the head. Now, however, looking back on it all, I wouldnAca,!a,,ct have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. Aca,!A"

His recollection illustrated that the child-like magic of the Holiday Season had not escaped the Soldiers in the field.

ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.

Related Links:

A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources: Christmas

Audio/video: "All was calm..."