REMEMBERING CHRISTMAS 1914
Private Clifford Lane
We'd all got these long, thick woollen underpants and vests on and we were soaked right through. When we got back to the trench it was dark, and we tried to get around this little brazier fire, but of course only two or three men could get near anyway so we didn't really get dry. And then they brought us 'Princess Mary's gift box'. And in this box was cigarettes, tobacco and a bar of chocolate, which was very much appreciated. And then we had what the English newspapers called Christmas Dinner. This consisted of cold bully beef and a cold lump of Christmas pudding, that was our Christmas dinner. The English news-papers said the British troops in the front line 'enjoyed' their Christmas dinner.
1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment
Private Frank Sumpter
After the 19th December attack, we were back in the same trenches when Christmas Day came along. It was a terrible winter, everything was covered in snow, everything was white. The devastated landscape looked terrible in its true colours clay and mud and broken brick but when it was covered in snow, it was beautiful. Then we heard the Germans singing 'Silent night, Holy night', and they put up a notice saying 'Merry Christmas', so we put one up too.
While they were singing our boys said, 'Let's join in,' so we joined in and when we started singing, they stopped. And when we stopped, they started again. So we were easing the way. Then one German took a chance and jumped up on top of the trench and shouted out, 'Happy Christmas, Tommy!' So of course our boys said, 'If he can do it, we can do it,' and we all jumped up. A sergeant-major shouted, 'Get down!' But we said, 'Shut up Sergeant, it's Christmas time!' And we all went forward to the barbed wire.
We could barely reach through the wire, because the barbed wire was not just one fence, it was two or three fences together, with a wire in between. And so we just shook hands and I had the experience of talking to one German who said to me, 'Do you know where the Essex Road in London is?' I replied, 'Yes, my uncles had a shoe repairing shop there/ He said, 'That's funny. There's a barber shop on the other side where I used to work.'
They could all speak very good English because before the war, Britain was invaded by Germans. Every pork butcher was German, every barber's shop was German, and they were all over here getting the low-down on the country. It's ironic when you think about it, that he must have shaved my uncle at times and yet my bullet might have found him and his bullet might have found me.
The officers gave the order 'No fraternisation' and then they turned their backs on us. But they didn't try to stop it because they knew they couldn't. We never said a word about the war to the Germans. We spoke about our families, about how old we were, how long we thought it would last and things like that. I was young and I wasn't that interested, so I stood there for about half an hour then I came back. But most of the boys stayed there the whole day and only came back in the evening. There were no shots fired and some people enjoyed the curiosity of walking about in no man's land. It was good to walk around. As a sign of their friendliness the Germans put up a sign saying 'Gott mit uns' which means 'God is with us' and so we put a sign in English saying 'We got mittens too'. I don't know if they enjoyed that joke.
London Rifle Brigade
Sergeant George Ashurst
There was still 200 yards between us and the Germans. We did not intermingle until some Jerries came to their wire waving a newspaper. 'What's that lads?' 'Are you going for it?' 'I'm not going for it!' Anyway a corporal in our company went for it. Well, he got halfway and he stopped. I don't know if he'd changed his mind or not, but the lads shouted, 'Go on! Get that paper!' He went right to the wire and the Germans shook hands with him and wished him a merry Christmas and gave him the paper.
He came back with it but we couldn't read a word of it so it had to go to an officer. And there were still fellows walking about on top of our trench at 5 o'clock, at teatime, and not a shot had been fired, although the armistice had officially finished at 1 o'clock. And we could see Jerries knocking about all over the place. It was so pleasant to get out of that trench, from between those two clay walls, and just walk and run about. It was heaven. And to kick this sandbag about, but we did not play with the Germans. Well we didn't, but I believe quite a lot did up and down the place. Eventually, we got orders to come back down into the trench, 'Get back in your trenches, every man!' The order came round by word of mouth down each trench. Some people took no damn notice.
Anyway, the generals behind must have seen it and got a bit suspicious, so they gave orders for a battery of guns behind us to open fire and a machine-gun to open out, and officers to fire their revolvers at the Jerries. That started the war again. We were cursing the generals to hell. You want to get up here in this mud. Never mind you giving orders in your big chateaux and driving about in your big cars. We hated the sight of bloody generals, we always did. We didn't hate them so much before this, but we never liked them after that.
Then we had newspapers coming here from England accusing us of fraternising with the Germans: parsons accusing us of fraternising with the Germans when there had been an armistice on Christmas Day. I wrote back home and told my family off. I said we could do with that parson and the fellows that are writing in the newspapers here, I said. We want them here in front of us instead of Jerry so we could shoot them down for passing remarks like that while nice and safe in England.
2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers
Lieutenant John Wedderburn-Maxwell
There was a party, a couple of hundred yards away, of our troops and the Germans all fraternising. And so I said I was going to go and look at this. And I told the infantry to keep an eye on me, in case anybody tried any rough business, so they'd know what was happening, and I went up and met a small party who said, 'Come along into our trenches and have a look at us.' I said, 'No, I'm quite near enough as it is.' And we laughed at each other, and I gave them some English tobacco, and they gave me some German I forget what it was - and we walked about for about half an hour in no man's land.
And then we shook hands, wished each other luck and one fellow said, 'Will you send this off to my girlfriend in Manchester?' So I took his letter, and I franked it, and sent it off to the girlfriend when I got back. And then after that I came back, and at midnight we were ordered into action because there was a strong rumour from a German deserter that there was going to be an attack.
Royal Field Artillery
Rifleman Henry Williamson
That evening the Germans sent a note saying that their Staff was visiting their trenches that night, so the truce must end and they would have to fire their machine-guns. They would fire them high but could we in any case keep under cover in case regrettable accidents occurred. At 11 o'clock precisely they opened up. We saw flashes of the machine- guns going high and it was passed back to Intelligence that the Germans were using Berlin time in the trenches, which is one hour before British time. I suppose that was an important item for Intelligence, and that was the end of our truce. We did not fire, and they did not fire for a day or two, but then the Prussians came in and relieved the Saxons and then we began to lose more men from sniping and we went out after that.
London Rifle Brigade