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Christmas Truce

#2
I believe localised truces were/are a fairly common occurrence during wars. My father in law told me they hunkered down with a German patrol when both were caught in a sandstorm. He told me they shared rations and memories of home until the sandstorm blew out whereupon they all shook hands and left in opposite directions.
Then there was the truce between, IIRC, the SRS and the SS in Italy, which was called to tend to the dead and wounded of both sides.
 

oldbaldy

LE
Moderator
#3
Maybe, but the we were given to believe that in WW1 the COC were at great pains to say 'never again, we can't be friends the the dastardly Huns'. Doesn't mean it didn't happen of course and no doubt because of the edict from above the local commanders kept quiet.
 
#4
Stanley Weintraub covers this in his excellent book "Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914" ISBN 978-0-6848-6622-2

He certainly gives the impression that it very much mattered where the German unit originated from, quoting a Saxon unit indicating that they were being relieved by a Prussian unit and that the British should give them hell!
 
#6
I believe localised truces were/are a fairly common occurrence during wars. My father in law told me they hunkered down with a German patrol when both were caught in a sandstorm. He told me they shared rations and memories of home until the sandstorm blew out whereupon they all shook hands and left in opposite directions.
Then there was the truce between, IIRC, the SRS and the SS in Italy, which was called to tend to the dead and wounded of both sides.
Whilst i agree that localised, post-battle truces to collect dead and wounded were actually not uncommon, the OP was about Christmas truces where the time of year rather than a sense of mercy towards those injured in the immediate past is the case.

A truce to collect the wounded didn't normally involve the fraternisation that occurred in 1914. And a Christmas truce where both parties agreed not to fire and stay put in their own trenches is very different to actually playing football against each other or socialising in No-Man's Land.

D_B
 
#7
The movie, Joyeux Noel (2005) portrays such an event.

Storyline
"In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man's Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood. This film dramatizes one such section as the French, Scottish and German sides partake in the unique event, even though they are aware that their superiors will not tolerate its occurrence". Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

This review: " * Movies

Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel)

Movie type: Drama, Romance
MPAA rating: PG-13:for some war violence and a brief scene of sexuality/nudity
Year of release: 2006
Run time: 116 minutes
Directed by: Christian Carion
Cast: Benno Furmann, Dany Boon, Diane Kruger, Gary Lewis, Guillaume Canet
'Noel' is a didactic Christmas card

03/10/2006


It's a heart-warmer, a well-meaning movie that sets out to wring a modern message (and preferably some tears) from a famous but largely forgotten moment in history. Set in 1914 at the start of World War I, "Joyeux Noel" tells the story of how Scottish, French, and German factions carried out a brief, happy cease-fire in time for Christmas. In the interest of symmetry, each army forms a side of the movie's equilateral triangle. But Carion's fidelity to narrative geometry leaves him with a redundant and hopelessly blocky movie. It jumps from the French to the Scots to the Germans, telling a similar story several times. The thrust of each telling is that the war has not robbed its soldiers of their holiday spirit. On Christmas Eve, Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), a German tenor turned soldier, bravely walks around the trenches singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem." The Scots play the bagpipes, and soon all are enjoying champagne and chocolate, listening to the yuletide sermon of a Scottish priest (Gary Lewis) and later to a song by Sprink's lady love Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger), a Danish star of the Berlin opera, whom he has brought to the front lines. Kruger also played Helen in "Troy"; she appears to enjoy roles that inspire fighting men to drool".

Worth a watch, and telling, when, in the following days after the "truce", all sides condemn their men for fraternising with the enemy.

The soldiers exchange photos of their wives, two soldiers bicker over the nationality of a cat, and the following day a soccer match is played. Amid all the harmonizing, the film's one genuinely intriguing character, a Scottish solder played by Alex Ferns, falls down over the corpse of his best friend".
 

oldbaldy

LE
Moderator
#8
All well & good recycling about the 1914 truce or what happen in WW2.
But the question posed was did it happen at Christmas 1915,16 or 17?
 
#9
But the question posed was did it happen at Christmas 1915,16 or 17?
Some evidence reported in the press today seems to suggest it did in one place in 1916. That evidence may be correct but reflect a very localised situation, or may be an example of a wider occurrence, or may be incorrect with the writer just trying to make things seem better for his family. I'd suggest that a lot more letters would need to be found to provide anything passing as a 'firm conclusion'
 

Goatman

ADC
Book Reviewer
#10
All well & good recycling about the 1914 truce or what happen in WW2.
But the question posed was did it happen at Christmas 1915,16 or 17?
Er, from the War Diary of my great uncle's Battalion, RWF :

On Christmas Day 1916, in the Boesinghe sector, the battalion diary notes

' In the early hours the enemy showed a desire to be friendly, calling out to our men
'Good morning Tommy. It's Christmas morning - a Happy Christmas to you. I hope we will both be friends. ' They sang English songs, including 'God save The King' , accompanied by a flute and a concertina"

Two days previously, the Germans had made a raid,using rafts,over the Ypres/Yser Canal and 2 NCOs and 10 men went missing - thus it is not surprising to learn that the German tidings were not reciprocated and that our artillery continued a slow bombardment of enemy trenches throughout the day.

No football match....and very little love lost....
 

oldbaldy

LE
Moderator
#11
That may be so Goatman but just because it didn't happen in Ypres doesn't mean to say it couldn't happen elsewhere & if it did, would it really have been put in the War Diary so that the COC would know?
 

Goatman

ADC
Book Reviewer
#14
That may be so Goatman but just because it didn't happen in Ypres doesn't mean to say it couldn't happen elsewhere & if it did, would it really have been put in the War Diary so that the COC would know?
Not arguing the point either way OB, just relaying a response to yr Q. from info in front of me....better take it up with the guy who wrote the Battalion War Diary.

Although if you start interpreting primary source material to suit your thesis - isn't that 'situating the appreciation ' ?

If I'd lost 12 oppos 2 days previously, I doubt I'd want to sing carols with enemy forces too much either.

As you say, local circs which may not have been the same from Switzerland to the Belgian Coast.

In my view chumminess must have pretty well vanished by 1917.....too many dead friends piled up on both sides.

Mr Kipling, as ever, puts it well:

Title: The Beginnings
Author: Rudyard Kipling

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late
With long arrears to make good,
When the English began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the English began to hate.

Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd,
It was not taught by the State.
No man spoke it aloud,
When the English began to hate.

It was not suddenly bred,
It will not swiftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the English began to hate
 
#15
I'm sure while reading the diary of the Royal West Kents ...(wifes grandfathers ) I came across a piece about a truce with the Hun on Christmas day .... no football match but deff some carols sung and an agreement to resume war next day .... will try and find it.
 
#16
The movie, Joyeux Noel (2005) portrays such an event.

Storyline
"In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man's Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood. This film dramatizes one such section as the French, Scottish and German sides partake in the unique event, even though they are aware that their superiors will not tolerate its occurrence". Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

This review: " * Movies

Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noel)

Movie type: Drama, Romance
MPAA rating: PG-13:for some war violence and a brief scene of sexuality/nudity
Year of release: 2006
Run time: 116 minutes
Directed by: Christian Carion
Cast: Benno Furmann, Dany Boon, Diane Kruger, Gary Lewis, Guillaume Canet
'Noel' is a didactic Christmas card

03/10/2006


It's a heart-warmer, a well-meaning movie that sets out to wring a modern message (and preferably some tears) from a famous but largely forgotten moment in history. Set in 1914 at the start of World War I, "Joyeux Noel" tells the story of how Scottish, French, and German factions carried out a brief, happy cease-fire in time for Christmas. In the interest of symmetry, each army forms a side of the movie's equilateral triangle. But Carion's fidelity to narrative geometry leaves him with a redundant and hopelessly blocky movie. It jumps from the French to the Scots to the Germans, telling a similar story several times. The thrust of each telling is that the war has not robbed its soldiers of their holiday spirit. On Christmas Eve, Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), a German tenor turned soldier, bravely walks around the trenches singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem." The Scots play the bagpipes, and soon all are enjoying champagne and chocolate, listening to the yuletide sermon of a Scottish priest (Gary Lewis) and later to a song by Sprink's lady love Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger), a Danish star of the Berlin opera, whom he has brought to the front lines. Kruger also played Helen in "Troy"; she appears to enjoy roles that inspire fighting men to drool".

Worth a watch, and telling, when, in the following days after the "truce", all sides condemn their men for fraternising with the enemy.

The soldiers exchange photos of their wives, two soldiers bicker over the nationality of a cat, and the following day a soccer match is played. Amid all the harmonizing, the film's one genuinely intriguing character, a Scottish solder played by Alex Ferns, falls down over the corpse of his best friend".
Christian Carion, the director did a lot of research into this and IIRC, the film depicts several incidents that actually happened combined into one. It also mentions how some of the nations involved actually supressed news of these incidents ie no reporting of them back home. Mail was even censored just to make sure. If anyone has the DVD, this is one extra that's really worth watching and while it's in French, there are subtitles.
 

oldbaldy

LE
Moderator
#17
It looks like it was attempted in 1915:
On 22 July 2001, Bertie Felstead, a veteran of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, died aged 106. He was also called "the last known survivor of the Christmas truce". The longer he lived, the more famous he became. He recalled hearing the Fritzes call out "Merry Christmas, Tommy!" and playing football with the enemy in no man's land, bartering souvenirs, singing carols. But he said the experience lasted only half an hour, a fleeting moment for so much to have happened to him. And the year was 1915. A second truce, he called it. Yet both the British and the German headquarters issued explicit orders, under pain of punishment, that there was to be no repetition of the extraordinary 1914 stoppage of the war, football included. Wars were to be fought, with no holidays from the killing.

Two officers who tried to initiate that second truce, Captain Miles Barnes and Captain Sir Iain Colquhoun of the 1st Scots Guards, did so ostensibly to bury the dead. The two sides mingled briefly and returned to their lines. For the rest of Christmas Day, Colquhoun said, "the Germans walked about and sat on their parapets. Our men did much the same, but remained in their trenches. Not a shot was fired".

A court martial was convened, and the two officers were reprimanded, the mildest sentence possible. So went the abortive 1915 truce. It is more than possible that Felstead's vivid memories traded upon the tales of his Welch Fusilier comrades who were in the trenches in 1914.
The Christmas truce: When the guns fell silent - The Independent
 
J

JWBenett

Guest
#19
Yes it did happen in 1914 and probably afterwards, but it means trawling through Regimental Diaries, and well-informed newspapers and archives. The truces have been called "live and let live" incidents. There are plenty of reliable books on this subject; fortunately someone else had done all the research for me when we visited way down in North Devon, two years ago..

Men of the Devonshire Regiment took part in the Christmas Truce of December 1914 (Legends, myths and realities - the Christmas Truce, 1914 - The Long, Long Trail). The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment spent their snow bound Christmas in frozen trenches,1914; 1st Battalion were in icy waterlogged trenches outside Wulvererghem. According to Wasley (2000, p. 54) British troops noticed lights in the German lines, then a Christmas tree with cards was posted on a German trench parapet.

Though the Germans worked in full view of the Devonshire soldiers, not a shot was fired; “an outbreak of music was followed by German carol singing, closely followed by the Devons' own Christmas hymns and carols”. According to W.J.P. Aggett (The Bloody Eleventh, Vol. 3,1995) “each side cheered one another”.

Aggett reports Christmas Eve for the Devons in 1914 was “the most peaceful night of the war so far”, though lack of dug outs meant the Devons slept on the frozen trench floors (ibid). The war was not “over by Christmas 1914” but on Christmas Eve 1914: hostilities were briefly suspended for a few combatants.(Harris, 2014)
.

Truces weren't observed everywhere along the Western Front. Fighting carried on, and casualties were taken over Christmas. Some officers tried to stop truces, stating they would undermine fighting spirit. Old soldier Lt. General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien had fought the Zulus in the late 1870's and the South African War in early 1900. He perhaps knew the British Tommy psyche and his weaknesses only too well; “Tommy might relax his guard and succumb to temptation”.

Smith-Dorrien wrote in his diary that “weird stories come in from the trenches...fraternising with the Germans. They shout to each other...exchange articles and they put bottles out between the trenches and hold competitions as to which side could break it first . There is a danger of opposing troops becoming too friendly” (Brown, M. (2007), pp. 17-19, provided by Harris).

Some references taken from Harris's research (one excellent book unpublished) down at Combe Martin Museum (2014), seen on a visit to Devon:
Body, Malcolm (2012) The 2nd Devons War Diary: The 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment and its Lost Men 1914-1919. London; Pollinger Print.
Brown et al (2005-2007) Meetings in No Man's Land: Fraternisation in the Great War . London. Constable & Robinson.
Brown, M. and Seaton. S. (2001 [1984]), Christmas Truce, The Western Front December 1914. London.
Daily Mirror (January 8th, 1914): AN HISTORIC GROUP: BRITISH AND GERMAN SOLDIERS PHOTOGRAPHED TOGETHER.
Imperial war Museum (1993, 2001) The Imperial War Museum Book of THE WESTERN FRONT. London. Pan Books, pp. 49-62.
Wasley, Gerald (2000) Devon in The Great War,1914-1918. Tiverton, Devon Books, pp. 34-144.

 

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