Stille Nacht / Silent Night

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of a momentous day during the First World War. By December of 1914 the war had already drawn to a stalemate with huge loss of life on both sides and appalling conditions in the trenches. Many of the dead could not be retrieved and were abandoned in No-Man’s land. The war that was supposed to be over by Christmas stretched interminably ahead.

Temperatures fell below freezing and snow began to fall on some parts of the line. German troops decorated the parapets of their trenches with small conifers, resembling Christmas trees. On Christmas Eve they lit candles and sang carols.

The Germans lit candles and in beautiful harmony sang “Silent night…Holy night.” So moved by their cheer, the British soldiers responded with carols of their own. This goodwill inspired many soldiers on both sides to toss gifts of food over into their enemy trenches. The German side applauded the British singing then the Brits cheered and applauded the Germans. One miracle act of goodness led to another, then another….. [1]

Informal truces were negotiated by officers despite warnings from British High Command that the enemy may be planning an attack.

WWI Christmas Truce: German and British Officers

Some of the more adventurous on both sides left their trenches and exchanged small gifts, swapping chocolate for sauerkraut and sausages.

“What a sight; little groups of Germans and British extending along the length of our front. Out of the darkness we could hear the laughter and see lighted matches. Where they couldn’t talk the language, they made themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill ”
~ Corporal John Ferguson of the Seaforth Highlanders.[2]

WWI Christmas Truce: German and British Troops

Christmas Day started with unarmed German and British soldiers collecting their dead from No-Man’s Land.

WWI No-Man's Land: Collecting the Dead

Fraternization continued throughout Christmas Day and the informal truce extended in some parts of the line until after New Year’s day. Regimental records of the 133rd Saxon Regiment report a football match against the British which the Saxons won 3-2.

Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the unofficial cessation of hostilities. Similar exchanges were reported between German and French troops. On the Eastern front, an unofficial ceasefire was recorded between Austrian and Russian troops the following Easter.

Overtures in later years were less successful after Allied Command ordered artillery barrages to discourage communication. Attempts at fraternisation with the enemy and negotiation of local truces to collect the dead between the lines faced severe punishment.

Company commander, Sir Iain Colquhoun of the Scots Guards, was court-martialled for defying standing orders to the contrary. While found guilty and reprimanded, the punishment was later annulled by General Haig and Colquhoun remained in his position.[3]

The Christmas truce of 1914 was a triumph of the human spirit over adversity and is a symbol of man’s humanity towards his fellow man. When we recognize that the enemy is not some faceless devil, as some leaders would have us believe, but much like us — with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, sons and daughters — we will find it easier to resolve our differences without waging war.

Scène du film “Joyeux Noël” (Version Française)

Wishing you peace and goodwill over the Christmas season and prosperity in the year ahead.

Thanks to: