Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

War IndexGlossaryEducational ResourcesAbout the Show
The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
Historians OverviewPeter Simkins

The Christmas Truce - A Mutual Curiosity
Peter Simkins
"Germans would be heard singing, 'Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.'

"Along the British section of the line, about 22 miles in Flanders, particularly on and around Christmas Day (it wasn't just a Christmas Day phenomenon), 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. I think on one or two instances, the Germans erected Christmas trees. And 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.

"People would shout messages like: 'Fritz, here. I was a waiter in a Manchester hotel before the war.'

Snow covered trench
Snow covered trench
"On Christmas Day itself, the first curious, slightly headstrong people, perhaps, from both sides poked their head above the trenches, and being made aware that somebody on the other side wasn't going to shoot it off, then clambered cautiously out. Others followed suit. People stopped in the middle of no-man's-land, shook hands, exchanged buttons and badges, cigarettes. This went on, in some parts for two or three days. And, then, partly because the Generals didn't want it to happen, and partly because units moved out of the line and others came in, the thing died away.

"It was never repeated.

"It is very much a 1914 phenomenon. I think it's wrapped up with the fact that you could still be sentimental in 1914. Whereas, when total war became much more all pervasive later in the war, and the war became much more sort of a mass war for everybody, I think the sort of slightly old-fashioned sentiments lost their place and it became much nastier business."

Back to Top     

Home Prologue Explosion/Stalemate Total War/Slaughter Mutiny/Collapse Hatred & Hunger/War Without End

Timeline Maps & Battles Shaping of the 21st Century Historians War Index Resources About the Show
Copyright © 1996 - 2004 Community Television of Southern California. All rights reserved.