WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN THE CHRISMAS TRUCE OF 1914?
A popular Christmas story
In the summer of 1914, thousands of young men from all over the British Empire signed up to fight in the First World War.
They went to war thinking the fighting would not last long and they would be home by Christmas, but by December, it was pretty clear that was not going to happen.
The war had reached a bloody stalemate. All along the Western Front, the opposing troops were dug into trenches with just a few yards of no man’s land between them.
But on Christmas Eve, something extraordinary happened – the soldiers on both sides just stopped fighting. And even more incredibly, as these photographs show, German and British troops left their trenches to spend Christmas together.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 is often celebrated as a symbolic moment of peace in an otherwise devastatingly violent war. We may like to believe that for just one day, all across the front, men from both sides emerged from the trenches and met in No Man’s Land to exchange gifts and play football. But first-hand testimonies help us get closer to what really happened.
Along the Western Front, a scattered series of small-scale ceasefires did happen between some German and British forces. But this brief festive reprieve was far from a mass event. Where it didn’t occur, 25 December 1914 was a day of war like any other. Where it did, accounts suggest that men sang carols and in some cases left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land.
However, the motivations for such events were complex – practical as much as ‘magical’ – and this wasn’t the first unofficial truce to take place. Instead, it was to be one of the last.
Call for peace
The arrival of December 1914 was proof, if any were needed, that the war would not be ‘over by Christmas’. For the men at the front, months of tough fighting were to be followed by a festive period away from home.
Back in Britain, German battleships shelled the coastal towns of Whitby, Hartlepool and Scarborough, killing 122 and injuring 450 civilian men, women and children. On the Western Front, fierce fighting took place in the Ypres Salient, leading to the deaths of many soldiers. It was the recovery and burial of these casualties which gave rise to the practical need for a cessation of fighting at certain areas of the front, like Ploegsteert Wood, which the British soldiers called ‘Plugstreet’.
On 7 December, Pope Benedict XV had proposed a wider official ‘Truce of God’ in which all hostilities would cease over the Christmas period. The authorities rejected the idea but were keen to maintain morale and bring at least some festive cheer to those at the front.
Throughout the month, 460,000 parcels and 2.5 million letters were sent to British soldiers in France. King George V sent a card to every soldier, and his daughter, Princess Mary, lent her name to a fund which sent a small brass box of gifts, including tobacco or writing sets, to serving soldiers. General Haig even records in his diary for 24 December: “Tomorrow being Xmas day, I ordered no reliefs to be carried out, and troops to be given as easy a time as possible”.
‘Live and let live’: unofficial truces
One of the soldiers sticks a board in the air. As soon as this board goes up all firing ceases…
By November 1914, it had become clear that the war was not going to be over quickly. As autumn turned to winter, the last of Britain’s professional soldiers, exhausted after months of vicious fighting, settled into the routine of life in the trenches of northern France.
They naturally began to think of enemy soldiers – sometimes a few feet away – doing the same. As a result of this proximity a ‘live and let live’ attitude developed in certain areas of the trench system.
Reciprocal periods of ‘quiet time’ emerged when soldiers tacitly agreed not to shoot at each other. Between battles and out of boredom, soldiers began to banter, even barter for cigarettes, between opposite sides. Informal truces were also agreed and used as an opportunity to recover wounded soldiers, bury the dead and shore up damaged trenches. In many ways, for the last of the professional soldiers, this was all part of the etiquette of war.
However, the High Command feared the longer-term impact of such activity and issued strict orders that officers should be vigilant against this kind of contact – regarding it as treason.
Yet this early on in the war, and across such a large front, these truces were simply a practicality – and certainly not unique to Christmas.
Christmas Eve: Silent Night
By Christmas Eve itself, the damp weather gave way to the cold and a festive frost settled on certain places at the front. As the main night of celebration in Germany, candles and trees went up along parts of the German line.
And as darkness fell, the entrenched German and British soldiers engaged in a carol sing-off.
Presents, kick-abouts and funerals
Along parts of the front, some men responded to the events of Christmas Eve by tentatively emerging from their trenches into No Man’s Land on Christmas Day. Where it happened, enemy soldiers did indeed meet and spend Christmas together.
Spontaneously, they exchanged gifts and took photos – but it was importantly an opportunity to leave the damp of the trenches and tend to the dead and wounded of No Man’s Land. There wasn’t a single organised football match between German and British sides. There may have been small-scale kick-abouts – but these were just one of many different activities men took the time to enjoy.
Meanwhile, in other places along the front, like Yser, bloody battles took place over the Christmas period and those that dared to come above the parapet were met not by gifts but gunfire. Belgian, Indian and French troops who witnessed episodes of fraternisation were at best puzzled and at worst very angry that British troops were being friendly towards the Germans.
The Generals’ reaction
General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien – commander of British 2nd Army Corps Expeditionary Force – issued strict warnings to his senior officers about preventing fraternisation with enemy soldiers.
Reports and photographs of these small-scale unofficial ceasefires reached the papers back home – and the military authorities.
High Command was angry – they feared that men would now question the war, and even mutiny, as a result of fraternising with the enemy that they were meant to defeat. Stricter orders were issued to end such activity – with harsh punishment for any man caught refusing to fight.
The London Rifle Brigade’s War Diary for 2 January 1915 recorded that “informal truces with the enemy were to cease and any officer or [non-commissioned officer] found to having initiated one would be tried by Court Martial.”
As the war continued, brutal developments on the battlefield changed the character of war in 1915. The enemy were further demonised and fraternisation made even less likely.
The small truces of 1914 never happened again. Yet despite the best efforts of the authorities, the story was out there – in the media and in the popular imagination. A story that has been re-told and re-shaped many times in the decades that followed.
(story and text taken from BBC website)
CLEVELAND ABBE ON KRNN, 12/3: Considered by many as the “father of the National Weather Service” serving as its leader for 45 years, Cleveland Abbe was born on this date in 1838. Whether rain or shine, make sure not to wither, no matter whiter you go, you are invited to the weather show for Abbe’s birthday on Crosscurrents, 12/3 at 8 am.
There is no reason to believe that Cleveland Abbe was a comedian. After all, weather forecasting is no joke… and what follows are examples of same…
How do hurricanes know where they’re going?
They look with their eye!
Why did the cloud stay home?
It was feeling under the weather!
Why don’t more people tell weather puns?
Because the weather is snow joke!
What do you call dangerous precipitation?
A rain of terror!
Accordian to the Weather Channel, its going to snow tomorrow!
Butter bring an umbrella, it looks like it might rain!
Lettuce in, it’s freezing outside.
Snow one at home at my house.
Wendy today; cloudy tomorrow.
Q: What do you call a wet bear?
A: A drizzly bear
Q: What did one raindrop say to the other?
A: Two’s company, three’s a cloud.
Q: When does it rain money?
A: When there is “change” in the weather.
Q: What happens when fog lifts in California?
Q: Where do snowmen keep their money?
A: In a snow bank.
“If you wish to make an apple pie
Truly from scratch…
…you must first
Invent the universe.”
~~~ Carl Sagan
Note: I need to speak to the staff about the delay in publishing this message. Sorry.
JIMMY CARTER ON KRNN, 10/1: A Georgia peanut farmer who became the 39th President later known for humanitarian work and the Noble Peace Award, Jimmy Carter was born on this date in 1924. With peanuts on our minds, we invite you to the Jimmy Carter birthday on Crosscurrents, 10/1 at 8am.
NATIONAL RADIO DAY ON KRNN, 8/20: The first US government licensed radio station began broadcasting on the 20th of August 1920. Please join us for National Radio Day with our special salute to distinctive radio on a unique Crosscurrents, 8/20 at 8 am. Live on air link: http://www.krnn.org
Only thing better than chasing an ice truck is being in the ice cream truck. You are invited to join our ice cream loving dogs for two hours of creamy smooth frozen blues tunes on WALKING THE BLUES AWAY Saturday 7/21 at 5-7 pm. LIVE AIR LINK http://www.krnn.org
Amazing Ice Cream Facts
Ice cream as we know it seems to have emerged in 17th-century France. (A first-century Roman emperor is said to have sent runners into the mountains for snow to be flavored with juices. In the 13th century.
Marco Polo brought back from China descriptions of a sherbet dessert.
The cone didn’t appear until 1904, when a Syrian waffle maker at the St. Louis World’s Fair began rolling his pastries into horns to help an ice cream vendor who had run out of dishes.
The idea of the ice cream cone had been patented a year earlier, in 1903, by an Italian in New York City, but the fair popularized it.
Today the average American eats about 20 quarts of ice cream a year―the world’s highest per capita consumption, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.
Top-selling ice cream flavors are: vanilla, with 33 percent of the market, and chocolate, with 19 percent.
It takes 5.8 pounds of whole milk and one pound of cream to make one gallon of ice cream.
The ice cream cone measured 2.81 m (9 ft 2.63 in) in height and was achieved by Mirco Della Vecchia and Andrea Andrighetti of Italy.
Some weird flavors of ice cream include buckwheat ice cream, beer flavored ice cream, and parmesan gelato.
June is the month that the most ice cream is produced.
California produces the most ice cream in America.
Chocolate syrup is the world’s most popular ice cream topping.
87% of Americans have ice cream in their freezer at any given time.
It takes about 50 licks to finish a single scoop ice cream cone.
The perfect temperature for scooping ice cream is between 6 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Brain Freeze” occurs when ice cream touches the roof of your mouth.
1 out of 5 people share ice cream with their pet.
An average dairy cow can produce enough milk in her lifetime to make a little over 9,000 gallons of ice cream.
In the U.S., all ice cream needs to have a minimum of 10% milkfat if it is to be labeled “ice cream”. This includes custard based (French Style) ice creams.
The U.S. celebrates National Ice Cream Month in July.
The U.S. produces the most ice cream in the world.
Ice cream became available to the general population in France in 1660.
Americans celebrated the victory of WWII with ice cream. In 1946, they ate more than 20 quarts of ice cream per person.
There is actually an ice cream diet designed for weight loss. You can read all about it in Prevention Magazine’s paperback, The Ice Cream Diet
19% of Americans say they eat ice cream in bed.
In the early days of television, mashed potatoes were used to simulate ice cream on cooking shows. Real ice cream melted too fast under the heat from the lighting.
Missouri designated the Ice Cream Cone as the Official State Dessert in 2008.
More ice cream was sold on Sundays than any other day of the week.
At one time it was against the law to serve ice cream on cherry pie in Kansas.
The first soft-serve ice cream machine was in an Olympia, Washington Dairy Queen.
Ice cream testers use gold spoons to be able to taste the product 100% without a slight percentage of ‘after-taste’ from typical spoons.
John Harrison, official tester for Dreyer’s Ice Cream, has his tongue insured for $1 million.
Despite its reputation as a cosmonaut staple, freeze-dried ice cream only made one mission to space. In 1968, it provided instant sugar rushes to the astronauts of Apollo 7.
For TV commercials, “Ice cream sundaes are often constructed of scoops of lard or mashed potato covered in motor oil.
Howard Hughes, the millionaire, was fond of Baskin-Robbins’ Banana Ripple ice cream. His ‘helpers’ had to order 200 gallons from the factory before it was discontinued. A few days later Hughes announced that he didn’t like it anymore.
“Raw Horse Flesh” is an ice cream flavor that is sold in Japan.
The world’s first batch of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream was made by Ben & Jerry’s, inspired by an anonymous note left on their flavor suggestion board.
First Lady Dolley Madison served ice cream at the inaugural at the White House in 1813.
Ice Cream used to be called cream ice.
The Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) had ice and snow brought to him from the mountains, which he stored in special rooms under his palace so that he could top it with fruit to enjoy.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of that month as National Ice Cream Day.
Around 1800, ice houses were invented and ice cream became an American industry.
The first ice cream cone was made by Italo Marchiony in New York City.
Did you know that a 125 mL (1/2 cup) serving of regular vanilla ice cream can be a source of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin A?
The major ingredient in ice cream is air!
The U.S. ice cream industry generates more than $21 billion in annual sales.
Some weird flavors of ice cream include maple bacon, beer flavored, and pepperoni pizza.
In 1985, the biggest ice cream sundae was made in California. It stood twelve feet tall and was made with 4,667 gallons of ice Cream.
A twelve foot tall ice cream sundae could make about 70,000 regular size sundaes. That’s a lot of ice cream!
Sorbet is like ice cream but contains no milk.
Ice cream can be made in many types – ordinary ice cream, frozen custard, frozen yogurt, reduced-fat ice cream, sherbet, gelato, and others.
Ice cream recipe came to North America 250 years after it was discovered by Christopher Columbus.
Market analysts confirmed that ice cream sales increase many times during times of recession or wars.
Ice cream was introduced to America in the 1700’s, but mostly enjoyed by those of status and wealth.
Centuries ago people started making summer-time desserts by taking sweet cream (the richest part of milk) or custard (egg-based puddings) and cooling them down with ice.
Novelties as ice cream on sticks and ice cream bars were introduced in the 1920s.
Ice cream cones were popularized in America during the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, when an ice cream vendor ran out of cups and asked a nearby waffle vendor to roll up his waffles to hold the ice cream.
Under the American Blue Laws of the time, ice cream sodas weren’t allowed to be sold on Sundays. To circumvent this rule, they invented the ice cream sundae.
Americans are the No.1 consumers of ice cream in the world, where an average person eats 48 pints of ice cream a year. In total, Americans consumed 1.58 billion gallons of ice cream in 2011.
Sugar in ice cream lowers its melting point, and the fats for its creamy texture.
Fat percentage in ice cream is regulated in the United States.
About 98% of U.S. families have ice cream in their fridges, at all times.
It takes 12 gallons of milk to create one gallon of ice cream.
The first ice cream parlor in America was founded in 1776 (The same year our declaration was made).
In ancient Rome, they ate snow and flavored it with fruit and honey as their ice cream.
About 9 percent of the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream.
The Beatles had an ice cream named after them by Baskin Robbins called Beatle Nut.
Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. declared,
“We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one’s own, no better way to counter a flag burner’s message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by – as one witness here did – according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
— Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414, 1989
Happy Independence Day to you…
…let us all continue to safeguard our democracy!