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Joyeux Noel

December 21, 2010

 

 

At Christmas, 1914, there occurred several informal truces at various points along the trench-lines of Northern France and Belgium. It may well be that there were other places where truces took place, but our precise knowledge of events is limited by the amount of direct, eyewitness testimony which has so far been discovered. Nevertheless, there are enough trustworthy reports (and even a few photographs) to convince us that something extraordinary happened that first Christmas of the war, and that it was not entirely an isolated happening.

The image of opposing soldiers, shaking hands with each other on one day and then deliberately trying to kill each other the next, is a powerful one, and one which is part and parcel of remembrance of the Great War. It was, perhaps, a last example of open-handed chivalry before the squalor and horror of the next three years changed the old world for ever.

Further reading: The Christmas Truce at First World War.com

 

“At 8.30 a.m. I was looking out and saw four Germans leave their trenches and come towards us. I told two of my men to go and meet them, unarmed, as the Germans were unarmed, and to see that they did not pass the half-way line. We were 350 – 400 yards apart at this point. My fellows were not very keen, not knowing what was up, so I went out alone and met Barry, one of our ensigns, also coming out from another part of the line. By the time we got to them, they were three-quarters of the way over, and much too near our barbed wire, so I moved them back. They were three private soldiers and a stretcher-bearer, and their spokesman started off by saying that he thought it only right to come over and wish us a Happy Christmas, and trusted us implicitly to keep the truce.

He came from Suffolk, where he had left his best girl and a three-and-a-half horsepower motor-bike. He told me that he could not get a letter to the girl, and wanted to send one through me. I made him write out a post card, in English, in front of me, and I sent it off that night. I told him that she probably would not be a bit keen to see him again.

We then entered on a long discussion on every sort of thing. I was dressed in an old stocking-cap and a man’s overcoat, and they took me for a corporal, a thing which I did not discourage, as I had an eye to going as near their lines as possible. I asked them what orders they had from their officers as to coming over to us, and they said none; they had just come over out of goodwill.

I kept it up for half-an-hour and then escorted them back as far as their barbed wire, having a jolly good look round all the time, and picking up various little bits of information which I had not had an opportunity of doing under fire.

I left instructions with them that if any of them came out later they must not come over the half-way line, and appointed a ditch as the meeting-place. We parted after an exchange of Albany cigarettes and German cigars, and I went straight to HQ to report.

On my return at 10.00 a.m. I was surprised to hear a hell of a din going on, and not a single man in my trenches; they were completely denuded (against my orders) and nothing lived. I head strains of “Tipperary” floating down the breeze, swiftly follwed by a tremendous burst of “Deutschland Uber Alles,” and, as I got to my own Company HQ dugout, I saw, to my amazement, not only a crowd of about 150 British and Germans, at the halfway house which I had appointed opposite my lines, but six or seven such crowds, all the way down our lines, extending towards the 8th Division on our right.

I hustled out and asked if there were any German officers in my crowd, and the noise died down. (At this time I was myself in my own cap and badges of rank.)

I found two, but had to speak to them through an interpreter, as they could talk neither English nor French. I explained to them that strict orders must be maintained as to meeting half-way, and everyone unarmed; and we both agreed not to fire until the other did, thereby creating a complete deadlock and armistice (if strictly observed.)

Meanwhile, Scots and Huns were fraternizing in the most genuine possible manner. Every sort of souvenir was exchanged, addresses given and received, photos of families shown etc. One of our fellow offered a German a cigarette; the German said, “Virginian?” Our fellow said, “Aye, straight-cut.” The German said, “No thanks, I only smoke Turkish!” (Sort of 10 shillings a hundred man, me. It gave us all a good laugh.) The Border Regiment was occupying this section on Christmas Day and Giles Loder, our Adjutant, went down there with a party that morning on hearing of the friendly demonstrations in front of my Company, to see if he could come to an agreement about our dead, who were still lying out between the trenches. The trenches are so close at this point, that of course each side had to be far stricter. Well, he found an extremely pleasant and superior stamp of German officer who arranged to bring all our dead to the half-way line. We took them over there, and buried 29 exactly half-way between the two lines. Giles collected all personal effects, pay-books and identity discs, but was stopped by the Germans when he told some men to bring in the rifles; all rifles lying on their side they had kept carefully.

They apparently treated our prisoners well, and did all they could for our wounded. this officer kept on pointing to our dead and saying, “Les braves, c’est bien dommage.”

When George heard of it he went down to that section and talked to the nice officer and gave him a scarf. That same evening a German orderly came to the half-way line, and brought a pair of warm, wooly gloves as a present in return for George.”

~ Captain Sir Edward Hulse, Bart., 2nd Scots Guards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?



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