One of the most remarkable events of the First World War concerns the ‘Christmas Truce’ of 1914, in which the soldiers of the Western Front laid down their arms on Christmas Day and met in No Man’s Land, exchanging food and cigarettes, as well as playing football.
The cessation of violence was entirely unofficial. There had been no prior discussion and troops acted spontaneously from goodwill, not orders.
The most famous account of events involves British and German forces; however, French and Belgium troops also took part. No-one really knows what initiated it. There were some reports that British troops heard their German counterparts singing Christmas carols and joined but there were also reports of German and British soldiers erecting signs wishing each other a ‘Merry Christmas’.
Driven by feelings of goodwill, home-sickness and combat-weariness some men crossed the lines with their hands up, and troops from the opposing side went to meet them. Commanders either turned a blind-eye or joined in. Food and supplies were exchanged and tools and equipment were borrowed. Games of football were played and bodies trapped within No Man’s Land were buried.
In many areas the truce lasted for the whole of Christmas day but in some places the peace lasted much longer and it was several weeks before the bloody conflict resumed.