Beginning July 28, 1914, Europe got embroiled in the First World War, which lasted till November 11, 1918. During this prolonged period, the coalition or the so-called Triple Entente of France, Russia and Britain, was engaged in combat against primarily the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria – Hungary and Italy. Eventually the first group came to be known as the Allied Powers, while the latter was named as Central Powers.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 was a period of relative peace and festivity during the ongoing destructive war between the Germans and the British armed forces. As per the reports, the Christmas Truce of 1914 came just five months post the inception of the First World War, and with that it also became the last instance of chivalry between the enemies during the war.
What Prompted the Christmas Truce of 1914?
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV advocated the official “Truce of God”, wherein the war was temporarily suspended in lieu of Christmas celebrations. Even General Haig’s diary for December 24, 1914 recorded: “Tomorrow being Xmas day, I ordered no reliefs to be carried out, and troops to be given as easy a time as possible.”
Accordingly, on Christmas eve, the Allied soldiers were surprised when they heard the sound of carols from the German trenches. The British officials did not know what was happening across the narrow no-man’s land. They popped out their heads over the side, skeptical that the Germans might shoot. But seeing the enemy unarmed, the British soldiers also got out of their trenches. Both the sides then got together in the no- man’s land, where they sang carols and even exchanged gifts. Moreover, it was reported that the men even played football and soccer, thereby giving everyone some memorable moments to cherish. In times of boredom, the soldiers would even begin to barter for cigarettes with the opponents. Meanwhile, some unofficial truces were also planned on the Western Front, to let the wounded soldiers recover, to repair the trenches and, at times, to even bury the dead. The soldiers considered it all a part of the war etiquette. There also reached a point of peaceful time wherein the men in uniform unanimously agreed to not attack and shoot one another.
Princess Mary’s Gifts for Christmas
As the war gradually engulfed Europe, by Christmas 1914 every British soldier knew that the enemy was also facing the same misery as they were. However, with a charitable instinct, Princess Mary of the British Royal Family lent her name to make provisions of gifts for the serving soldiers. Not only this, a card was sent to every soldier and his daughter. Furthermore, it was also reported that throughout December of 1914, around 0.46 million parcels and cards, and 2.5 million letters were sent to the British soldiers fighting on different fronts, in order to mitigate their misery.
Why Did the War Resume After the Truce?
Both sides in the war were well aware that consorting with the enemy was just one step away from treason, a crime punishable by court martial and execution. Men on both sides went to sleep that night, wondering if they would get up the next morning to renew fighting. The fear of punishment was enough to get most of the soldiers back to fighting war. However, it proved to be difficult for the soldiers to pick up arms against each other, and target people in the opposite trench with whom they had just celebrated Christmas.
In the London Rifle Brigade’s War diary dated January 2, 1915, it had been registered 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 a result, the war continued and took an ugly face in 1915 – “the enemy were further demonized and fraternization made even less likely.” Nevertheless, the Christmas Truce of 1914 certainly stands as an encouraging account of how, under the shadow of wars and destruction, there also lies the inherent humanity of soldiers.
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