Extract from the book Voices from the Past: Canadian Letters from the First World War by Bill Beswetherick and Geraldine Chase.
The First World War Christmas Truce
By Christmas 1914, only five months after the start of the First Word 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. The Germans appear to have made the first moves, and the good-will soon spread along the British lines. Soldiers from opposing sides met in no-man’s-land and in some places took part in impromptu soccer matches. Arthur Stratford of Brantford, Ontario, was one of the few Canadians to see action in 1914. He was working in England when he enlisted as a lieutenant in a British regiment. After a short time in France, he spent much of the war in Africa. Two of his brothers were killed while serving in Canadian units. Lieutenant Stratford wrote to his sister on 26 December 1914 about the Christmas truce:
Well Mayd, I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day in the trenches. We were relieved last night. It was very funny in the trenches yesterday, there was hardly a shot fired. 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.12
In some areas, truces extended into early January 1915, but they rarely occurred again. The high commands on both sides issued orders to stop such fraternizing. A British divisional commander sent the following order to his units in December 1915 concerning: “The unauthorized truce which occurred on Christmas Day at one or two places last year ... nothing of the kind is to be allowed on the Divisional Front 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 upon the enemy.” 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.
There is evidence that truces occurred in small sections of the front after 1914. In a letter dated 30 December 1916 Private Ronald MacKinnon of the P.P.C.L.I. wrote to his sister in a letter of 30 December 1916: “I had quite a good Xmas considering I was in the front line. Xmas eve was pretty stiff, sentry-go up to the hips in mud of course. I had long rubber boots or waders. We had a truce on Xmas Day and our German friends were quite friendly. They came over to see us and we traded bully beef for cigars.” MacKinnon and enlisted on 10 September 1915 and was killed on 9 April 1917 during the capture of Vimy Ridge.
British and German troops meet during a short Xmas truce
in France in December 1914.