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What really happened in the Christmas truce of 1914?

A Popular Christmas Story

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.

 

‘Live and let live’: unofficial truces

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.

Full story on BBCiwonder

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