DISCUSSION TOPIC: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
Perhaps no term better captures the horror of World War I than that of No Man's Land, the forbidden turf between the opposing trenches. In both myth and reality, it became a space in-between that was associated with the journeys from sanity to madness and from life to death. A place of churning soil, singing bullets and suspended time, it exposed human vulnerability in the Machine Age.
On December 25, 1914, however, No Man's Land was briefly transformed into a meeting-ground for erstwhile foes. German troops, used to celebrating Christmas on the evening of the 24th, had smuggled Tannenbaum trees into the trenches and serenaded their British counterparts with "Stille Nacht." The next day, thousands of troops exchanged photographs and souvenirs; shared bully beef, cigarettes, jam, sausages, chocolate and alcohol; and engaged in other activities. In a few places, soldiers who had been barbers in civilian life offered free haircuts to those on the other side. A German juggler gave an impromptu performance. There are accounts of soccer scrimmages, including one in which Saxons laughed uproariously when gusts of wind revealed that their Scottish opponents were clothed in their kilts alone, and one in which the ball deflated after catching on barbed wire. There was even a joint memorial service with the bilingual saying of the 23rd Psalm as a prelude to the burial of those who had fallen earlier in No Man's Land.
Accounts of the significance of the Christmas Truce differ. British soldier and war cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather described it as "just like the interval between rounds in a friendly boxing match." For Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, a father who lost his son to the fighting, the truce was "one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of the war." For a particular Austrian soldier billeted near the front lines, it was an abomination that "should not be allowed." His name: Adolf Hitler. In succeeding years, artillery bombardments were ordered by commanding officers on Christmas Eve.
The Primary Question
How much attention should historians pay to the Christmas Truce of 1914? Can it be seen as a glimpse at a possible alternative world or is it better understood as a minor footnote in the Great War?
Possible Starting Places
"The Christmas Truce Of 1914: What Really Happened?," Imperial War Museum, December 9, 2020. (12 mins)
Adam Hochschild, "It Is The 100th Anniversary Of The WWI Christmas Truce," Mother Jones (December 25, 2014).
"A Century Ago, When The Guns Fell Silent On Christmas," Morning Edition, NPR, December 25, 2014.
Demystifying The Christmas Truce: An article by Thomas Lower for the Heritage Of The Great War web-site.
Christmas Truce In The News
Mary Elisabeth Cox, "The Forgotten Story Of Christmas, 1918," New York Times, December 25, 2019.
Peter Goffin, "Canadian Memories Of First World War's Forgotten Christmas Truces," Toronto Star, December 22, 2016.
Rozina Sabur, "Christmas Day Truce Of 1914 Was Not A One-Off, Researcher Reveals," Telegraph, December 20, 2016.
"WW I 1914 Christmas Truce: 'Stop It At Once' Order Auctioned," BBC News, September 2, 2016.
Abby Zimet, "The Walls They'd Kept Between Us: The Christmas Truce Of 1914," Common Dreams, December 25, 2014.
James Masters, "WW I Christmas Truce Football Match: Fact Or Fiction?," CNN, December 25, 2014.
"World War One Christmas Truce Footballer Honoured With Plaque," BBC News, December 25, 2014.
"World War One Truce: 'War Came To Standstill,'" BBC News, December 25, 2014.
Christian Carion, "How France Has Forgotten The Christmas Truce Soldiers," BBC Newsmagazine, December 24, 2014.
Lizzie Dearden, "Christmas Day Truce 1914: Letter From Trenches Shows Football Match Through Soldier's Eyes For First Time," Independent, December 24, 2014.
Anthony Sharwood, "The WW I Christmas Truce, What Really Happened?," News.Au, December 24, 2014.
William Keylor, "It Was German Soldiers Who Made First Move In The Christmas Truce," Conversation, December 23, 2014.
"Volunteers Re-Enact The Christmas Truce Football Match -- In Pictures," Guardian, December 22, 2014.
"Christmas Truce Of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers," Telegraph, December 22, 2014.
Barbara Miller, "World War I: Soccer Players Mark 100 Years Since Christmas Truce Of 1914 In Belgium," ABC News, December 18, 2014.
"Christmas Truce Between World War One Troops Re-enacted," BBC News, December 15, 2014.
Virginia Mayo, "A Century Later, First World War's Christmas Truce Football Game Remembered," Toronto Star, December 11, 2014.
Keith Perry, "The Real Story Behind The 1914 Christmas Truce," Telegraph, December 4, 2014.
"World War One Christmas Truce Football Match Recreated," BBC News, August 24, 2014.
"Christmas Truces During WW I 'Were Not One-Offs,'" BBC News, December 15, 2010.
"Diary Reflects WWI Seasonal Truce," BBC News, December 31, 2007.
"WWI Truce Letter Sold For 14,000 Pounds," BBC News, November 8, 2006.
Stephen Holden, "Movie Review: 'Joyeux Noel,'" New York Times, March 3, 2006.
Thomas Vinciguerra, "The Truce Of Christmas, 1914," New York Times, December 25, 2005.
"Film Recounts World War I Christmas Truce," DW, November 26, 2005.
"Anti-War Film DVDS 'For Troops,'" BBC News, November 24, 2005.
Lewis Beale, "A Christmas (War) Story," New York Times, February 27, 2005.
"1914 'Football Truce' Anniversary," BBC News, December 24, 2004.
Lorna Martin, "Last
Survivor Of 'Christmas Truce' Tells Of His Sorrow,"
Guardian, December 19, 2004.
"World War I Football Truce Inspires Film," BBC News, May 15, 2004.
Andy Callan, "My Grandad's WW I Christmas Truce," BBC News, December 24, 2003.
Luke Harding, "A Cry Of "Waiter!" . . . And The Fighting Stopped," Guardian, November 11, 2003.
Malcolm Brown, "When
Peace Broke Out,"
Guardian, December 24, 2001.
"Bertie Felstead: Last Survivor Of A Famous First World War Christmas Truce [Obituary]," Guardian, August 3, 2001.
"New Home For Peace Pipe," BBC News, December 25, 1999.
"The Christmas Truce," BBC News, November 3, 1998.
Christmas Truce, Wikipedia: An entry from the on-line encyclopedia.
Christmas Truce, Winter 1914 -- National WWI Museum And Memorial:
Christmas Truce Of 1914
Christmas Truce: A contemporary photograph of a section of No Man's Land where the Christmas Truce took place.
Christmas Truce 1914 -- Operation Plum Pudding: Includes letters from British soldiers.
1914 Christmas Truce: A concise feature on the truce from a site devoted to the local history of the village of Kennethmont in Scotland.
Famous Christmas Truce Of 1914: A 2008 introduction to the truce from Jay Hardy.
A.J. Baime and Voker Janssen, "What Happened When WWI Paused For Christmas," History.com (October 19, 2018).
Erik Sass, "WW I Centennial: The Christmas Truce Of 1914," Mental Floss (December 25, 2014).
Naina Bajekal, "Silent Night: The Story Of The World War I Christmas Truce Of 1914," Time (December 24, 2014).
Bruce Heydt, "Peace, For A Moment, Breaks Out Along The Western Front," British Heritage, 25 (January 2005).
Feature Articles -- The Christmas Truce: A 2004 contribution by Simon Rees to the comprehensive First World War.com web-site.
Virginia Byfield, "When Enemies Celebrated Together," Alberta Report, 28 (December 17, 2001).
"Bertie Felstead," Economist (August 2, 2001).
Leslie Stuart Carter, "In December 1914, German And British Soldiers Took A Brief Christmas Holiday From World War I," Military History, 16 (December 1999).
John Terraine, "Christmas 1914, And After," History Today, 29 (December 1979).
Audio and Video
"WWI Christmas Truce: Silent Night," Extra History #1, Extra Credits, December 17, 2017. (11 mins)
"WW I Christmas Truce: Letters From The Trenches," Extra History #2, Extra Credits, December 24, 2017. (9 mins)
Sainsbury's Official Christmas 2014 Ad:
"Christmas Truce," Days That Shook The World, BBC.
"The Christmas Truce": A 45-minute documentary.
"British Army Beat Germany Army In 'Game Of Truce,'" FATV News, December 18, 2014.
"World War One Truce: Britain Vs. Germany Christmas Football Match," Rise As One, Fox Sports, 2014.
Christmas Truce Of World War I -- "Joyeux Noel" (2005 Film):
"Oh What A Lovely War!" -- Christmas Truce: A clip from the 1969 movie.
Battlefield I -- Christmas Truce Of 1914 -- Cinematic Movie:
"Last Witness To World War I's 'Christmas Truce' Dies," All Things Considered, NPR, November 21, 2005.
Christmas Truce, Weekend Edition, NPR, December 23, 2001: An audio segment in which historian Douglas Brinkley discusses the truce.
Christmas Truce, Weekend Edition, NPR, December 1, 2001: An audio feature in which Scott Simon interviews Pennsylvania University historian Stanley Weintraub about the truce.
"When The Fighting Paused For Christmas During The First World War," CBC Archives, December 1982.