World War I had been raging for a year. One million souls had already perished in the conflict. On Christmas Eve 1914, British and German troops stood face to face in trenches divided by “No Man’s Land” along the Western Front.
The winter of 1914 was bitter. The soldiers, unequipped to face the rigors of the cold and rain, found themselves wallowing in a freezing mire of mud and the decaying bodies of the fallen.
The men entrenched there could not help but have a degree of sympathy for his enemy who was having just as miserable a time as they were.
On the eve of the “Truce”, the British Army was manning a stretch of the line running south from the infamous Ypres, a small Flemish market town, just over the border from France, for twenty-seven miles to the La Bassée Canal.
Numerous support associations on both sides flooded the front with gifts of food, warm clothes and letters of thanks. With their morale boosted and their bellies fuller than normal, and with still so many Christmas goodies on hand, the spirit of the season entered the trenches. A British Daily Telegraphcorrespondent wrote that on one part of the line the Germans had managed to slip a chocolate cake into British trenches. It was accompanied by a message asking for a ceasefire later that evening so they could celebrate Christmas.
Longing for the warmth of hearth and home, the story goes that German soldiers began singing “Stille Nacht” or Silent Night from their trenches. British troops began to sing Christmas carols too. Thus began the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Along many parts of the line the Christmas Day truce was initiated through sadder means. Both sides saw the lull as a chance to get into No Man's Land and seek out the bodies of their fallen brothers-in-arms and give them a decent burial.
It is comforting to believe that the legacy of the “Christmas Truce”, nearly hundred years later, soldiers and officers who were told to hate, loathe and kill, could still lower their guns and extend the hand of goodwill and the hope of peace on earth that Christmas Eve.
It was one of the few bright moments amid the slaughter of the Great War, in which fourteen million people were killed.