For just the briefest of moments around Christmas time in 1914 a small reminder of normality amidst the chaos and madness of warfare returned when men, very young men, sitting in the cold trenches of the German Army and dug into the mud of the French countryside began to sing Christmas carols. As their voices rose up and filled the air this small escape from the hardships they were enduring led to a series of widespread and unofficial ceasefires that took place along many parts of the Western Front.
When these German soldiers started to sing the British troops responded and gradually both sets of soldiers moved out of their trenches and met in no-man’s land. The British soldiers on the Frelinghien-Houplines sector on the western front were the main allied participants in the Christmas festivities. After exchanging stories, food and gifts, seasonal greetings, and holding joint burials and singing carols together several games of football broke out – The only result recorded was a 3-2 victory by the Germans, quoted in soldiers’ letters from both sides – On some parts of the front hostilities were officially resumed on Boxing Day at 0830 with a ceremonial pistol shot marking the occasion. In other areas non-aggressive behaviour lasted for days and, in some cases, weeks.
At the time this was all happening around 40,000 Britons had lost their lives – a tiny number compared to the body count by 1918 – as well as thousands more on the French, Belgian and German sides and the Christmas truce or to give it its German name of Weihnachtsfrieden is now looked upon as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amongst one of the most violent and destructive moments in our history. Over the following years however and despite a small number of truces continuing there were far less of them as orders from the military hierarchy warning against fraternisation with the ‘enemy’ were strictly enforced. As following years saw battles taking place at places such as Verdun and the Somme and with both sides employing poisoned gas and aerial bombardment each increasingly thought of the other side as less than human and became increasingly bitter before eventually any form of truce became unthinkable.
An event in Saltburn at the weekend commemorated the moment when the opposing troops came together during an event organised to help raise money for the Royal British Legion. Thousands of visitors came to the beach to watch the football game with the players wearing the respective uniforms of the British and German armies. Many visitors bought remembrance crosses that were then planted by Army cadets in a temporary memorial garden created on the beach. Stalls offered food and music was provided by a brass band. The event and the day culminated in a fly past by a vintage Tiger Moth aeroplane that dropped 45,000 poppies over the spectators on the beach as it flew past overhead
Some of the pictures from this set also appeared here….
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