until when we started up “O Come, All Ye Faithful” the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words, Adeste fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
“Many of the men stayed awake all night. The next morning, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land,” the ground between opposing trenches.”
Sergeant Alfred Anderson, of the 5th Battalion of the Black Watch, was one of the first to be sent to France in October 1914 when the First World War broke out. He was billeted in a dilapidated farmhouse not far away from the front line at the time. He also was the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war. In an interview in 2003, he vividly recalled Christmas Day saying:
“I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machine gun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas’, even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.”
A holder of the Légion d’ Honneur, France’s highest honour, Mr. Anderson received his last telegram from the Queen, but was too frail to take part in the Remembrance Day ceremonies. He was Scotland’s oldest man and described himself as “the last man standing”. He remarked that he found the country wide two-minute silence on Remembrance Day, (November 11) “remarkably poignant” because of the “terrible constant noise in the trenches”. The last veteran of the Christmas Truce during the First World War died in his sleep, aged 109.
One explanation for this fraternization was the desire to sing together. The 6th Gordon Highlanders often performed recitals with the enemy. Either side would cry “half time” as a cue for the shooting would stop. First one side would sing then the other would respond. If an officer appeared from either side, someone would give the signal, everyone stopped singing and resumed shooting, and the officer would be satisfied with the fighting zeal of his men and would move on. As soon as he would leave, the singing would recommence. Needless to say the serenade altered quite a bit during The Truce.
Not all of the music was amateur. A German private appropriately named Nikolaus, was also a trained tenor. He is remembered for his most important performance
singing for both his comrades as well as his enemies in No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve 1914.
In one section of the front, where Germans faced French soldiers, a famous operatic tenor, Walter Kirchoff, was visiting the front in the company of Crown Prince Wilhelm. While the heir to the throne stayed back, Kirchoff made his way to the very front line. Years later, French, German and English soldiers alike all remembered hearing him. As he sang, he later said, “Enemy soldiers applauded from the parapet, and called for an encore. This episode was depicted in the movie Joyeux Noel.
Another example of fraternizing came from Captain Sir Edward Hulse Bart who wrote “The peace that reigned rendered the battlefield suddenly alien from the miserable new home that had become so familiar. From all sides birds seemed to arrive, and we hardly ever see a bird generally. Later in the day I fed about 50 sparrows outside my dug-out, which shows how complete the silence and quiet was.”
Sir Edward Hulse wrote in the same letter; how the first interpreter he met from the German lines was from Suffolk where he had left his girlfriend and a 3.5 hp motorcycle. Capt. Hulse went on to describe a sing-song which “ended up with ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Württenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!”
Ironically, the fraternization between the “Tommies” and the “Jerries” lies in the fact that many Saxons in the trenches actually lived and worked in the United Kingdom but had to leave to fight for the fatherland. As a result, many Saxons spoke English very well. Malcolm Brown references Captain Stockwell of the Royal Welsh Riflers near Houplines on the French-Belgian boarder who observes in his diary that a Saxon in a neighboring trench had worked for a barber in Princes Street, Edinburgh, the very same barber who used to cut his hair.
By and large, there were fewer truces with French troops, who were less easily persuaded of joining since the fighting was on their own soil. However, in one of the French trenches, the soldiers are quietly enjoying their Christmas-Eve dinner—a lot of food and champagne—and the company of a tabby cat. Nearby, the Scots are celebrating their Christmas Eve in their trench with food, whisky, and laughter. They began to play bagpipes. That got the Frenchmen 's attention and they requested some specific songs. The Scots taught them a few Scottish hymns and the French returned the favor. This poignant moment was immortalized in the movie, with the Scots singing a hymn “I’m Dreaming of Home”. It was written specifically for the movie Joyeux Noël.
Many accounts of the truce involve one or more football (soccer) matches played in no-man’s land. This was mentioned in some of the earliest reports, with a letter written by a doctor attached to the London Rifle Brigade, published in The Times on 1 January 1915, reported “a football match... played between
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