Even through a world-wide pandemic, the legion continues to provide assistance and support to Veterans and communities across Canada. We need your help to continue. Renew your membership and stand with our Veterans through these challenging times.
Hi Everyone. I thought, during the COVID-19 epidemic, when there is not much news at the branch, that you may be interested in reading some "Letters from the Past" - the letters will be letters to loved ones and family's during the Christmas season.
1914 Christmas Truce
By Christmas 1914, just five months after the start of the First World War, over half a million soldiers on both sides had been killed on the Western Front. Despite this slaughter, there were unofficial and spontaneous Christmas truces.
Although Canadian army units did not arrive in trenches on the Western Front until early 1915, Arthur Stratford of Brantford, Ontario, was serving in the trenches in 1914. He was working in London, England, when he enlisted in a British unit. Two of his brothers were killed while serving in Canadian units. Stratford wrote to his sister on 26 December 1914 about the truce:
I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day in the trenches ... About noon one of the Germans, they can all speak English, shouted over “Merry Christmas“. Of course we shouted back “Merry Christmas. “Come over here” one of them called. “You come over here” we replied. “We’ll come half way if you come the other half” replied the German. So a couple of our men stood up in the trench and the Germans did the same. Pretty soon we were scrambling over our trenches towards one another, without rifles of course, and we met half way. Both sides were a little shy at first but we soon warmed up and shook hands and laughed and joked. Soon one of them said “you sing us a song and we’ll sing you one.” So we gave them “Tipperary” which they enjoyed very much. They sang us a couple of songs, but I don’t know what they were but they sounded all right ... The men had a great time with the Germans and all were mighty sorry when dusk began to fall and we thought it time to get back to our lines ... We had a great fire in our trenches and we spent the remainder of the evening singing until we were relieved.
Such truces rarely occurred again. The high commands on both sides issued orders to stop such fraternizing. A British commander sent the following order about: “The unauthorized truce which occurred on Christmas Day at one or two places last year ... nothing of the kind is to be allowed this year. The Artillery will maintain a slow gun fire on the enemy’s trenches commencing at dawn, and every opportunity will as usual be taken to inflict casualties.” Orders from senior officers were not the only factor preventing future Christmas truces. Heavy casualties as well as the German use of poison gas and the sinking of passenger liners in 1915 created much bitterness. George D'All was a widower when he enlisted in the Canadian army in late 1914 at age 39. In this letter to his children in Montreal, D’All, who would be killed in 1916 described Christmas Day 1915:
We had strict orders to hold no parley with the enemy should he make any advances, but in spite of the warning, when Fritz called over “Merry Christmas Canadians” our sentries bobbed up their heads and returned the compliment. In a few minutes there was a whole bunch looking over the parapets from both sides, and one old fellow with a black whisker waved a box of cigars at us and invited us over. A sergeant, however, put a stop to it by opening fire and hitting two of their men, and when they returned it one of our fellows was shot through the head.
FYI: I am not making light of our COVID-19 pandemic but we may remember, during our current stressful times, that for millions around the world Christmas 1914-18 and 1939-1945 were also very bad times.
British sodliers (in peaked caps) and German soldiers meet in No Man's Land during Christmas 1914 truce.