"The Christmas truce was the last twitch of the 19th Century.
"By that I mean it was the last public moment in which it was assumed that people were nice, and that the Dickens view of the world was a credible view.
"What happened was this: on Christmas morning, 1914, the German troops were dug in over there, and the British troops were dug in here. Somebody, some bright boy, sent a message over. (Probably threw it wrapped around a grenade without the pin pulled.) And it said something like: 'Let's have a party. Let's meet in the middle. We won't shoot. And don't shoot us if we come between the lines.'
"The British soldiers thought this was a good idea.
"A few people got up tentatively, left their rifles behind, and found they were not shot at. The Germans came out too. Probably only a dozen at first, but gradually it spread all the way up and down the line. Gradually, battalions and regiments were fraternizing between the lines.
"A wonderful ironic moment.
"They were exchanging cigarettes and addresses, exchanging insignias – treating each other like friends. It was a high emotional moment. It's the last gesture of the 19th Century idea that human beings are getting better the longer the human race goes on. Nobody could believe that after the First World War, and certainly not after the Second."