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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewTotal WarSlaughterNagel/StockwellEtem/Wegner
Voices of the Great War

Fritz Nagel Fritz Nagel
Fritz Nagel, a German Lieutenant, crossed into Belgium in August of 1914 with his men and faced guerrilla warfare.

"Unless they shot first, nobody knew where the enemy was. Whenever they had the chance they shot down German soldiers... There was little defense against this sort of warfare because the streets were full of civilians...
 
It was nerve wracking in the extreme and resulted in savage and merciless slaughter at the slightest provocation. As we marched... dead soldiers and civilians lay everywhere."
-- Fritz Nagel, Memoirs of a German Lieutenant

The German army responded with an iron fist to what they took to be civilian sniper fire; most of the Germansí fears were groundless, but 6,000 Belgian civilians died nonetheless.
 
Anti-German propaganda poster
Anti-German propaganda poster
Rumors and stories of German atrocities -- raping women and girls, killing unarmed civilians of all ages -- spread quickly throughout Europe and around the world. Such stories and rumors about "poor little Belgium" were used by propagandists against the Germans for the rest of the war and beyond.

Historian Commentary
The German Army's Advance into Belgium
Wolfgang Mommsen, Historian
 
The invasion of Belgium was considered an essential element of the German war plan... a very speedy defeat of all resistance in the first days seemed to be imperative. And then something happened which the Germans hadn't expected, namely, that the Belgians put up active resistance. Not very strong, but strong enough to slow down the march of the German armies considerably so.
 
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C. I. Stockwell C. I. Stockwell
Captain C.I. Stockwell was on the Western Front during the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Play Audio"I ran out into the trench and found that the Saxons [Germans] were shouting 'Don't shoot. We don't want to fight today. We will send you some beer.'
 
"A German officer appeared and moved out into the middle of No Man's Land, so I went out to meet him amidst the cheers of both sides. We met and formally saluted. He introduced himself as 'Count Something-or-other.' And seemed a very decent fellow."
-- C.I. Stockwell, The War the Infantry Knew

Soldiers celebrating Christmas
Soldiers celebrating Christmas
On Christmas Eve, 1914, thousands of soldiers from both sides put aside their weapons and shared the spirit and camaraderie of the holiday season with their enemies. The "Christmas truce" was the last action that resembled 19th-century warfare. The General Staffs could not accept this behavior and order all such further actions stopped, under penalty of court martial.

Historian Commentary
The Christmas Truce

Peter Simkins, Imperial War Museum
 
Along the British section of the line, about 22 miles in Flanders, particularly on and around Christmas Day, both sides began to detect in the opposing trenches, certain signs of Christmas celebration.
 
The British would respond with a British Christmas carol. In some places, food was lobbed over into the opposing trenches. There was a kind of mutual curiosity, and certainly instances of soldiers applauding each others' singing; and it became a kind of friendly duel, if you like.
 
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