Testimonies of the Christmas Truce

Christmas Truce: A German testimony

Leutnant Johannes Niemann,

133rd Royal Saxon Regiment

We came up to take over the trenches on the front between Frelinghien and Houplines, where our regiment and the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders were face to face. It was a cold starry night and Scots were a hundred or so meters in front of us in their trenches where, as we discovered, like us they were up to their knees in mud. My Company Commander and I, savouring the unaccustomed calm, sat with our orderlies round a Christmas tree we had put up in our dugout.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, our enemies began to fire on our lines. Our soldiers had hung little Christmas trees covered with candles above the trenches and our enemies, seeing the lights, thought we were above to lunch a surprise attack. But, by the midnight it was calm once more. Next morning the mist was slow to clear and suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to saw that both the German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternizing along the front. I grabbed my binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy. Later a Scottish soldier with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. The Scots marked their goal mouth with their strange caps and we did the same with ours. It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour and that we had no referee. A great many of the passes went wide, but all the amateur footballers, although they must have been very tired, played with huge enthusiasm. Us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots were no drawers under their kilts – and hooted and whistled every time they caught an impudent glimpse of one posterior belonging to one of “yesterday’s enemies”. But after an hour’s play, when our Commanding Officer heard about it, he sent an order that we must put a stop to it. A little later we drifted back to our trenches and the fraternization ended.

The game finished with a score of three goals to two in favour of Fritz against Tommy.

“Come over, I want to speak to you”

Gunner Herbert Smith,

5th Battery, Royal Field Artillery

On Christmas Eve there was a lull in the fighting, no firing going on at all after 6 p.m. The Germans had Christmas trees in the trenches, and Chinese lanterns all along the top of a parapet. Eventually the Germans started shouting, “Come over, I want to speak to you”. Our chaps hardly knew how to take this, but one of the “nuts” belonging to the regiment got out of the trench and started to walk towards the German lines. One of the Germans met him about half-way across, and they shook hands became quite friendly. In due time the “nut” come back and told all the others about it. So more of them took it in turns to go and visit the Germans. The officer commanding would not allow more than three man at a time.

I went out myself on Christmas day and exchanged some cigarettes for cigars, and this game has been going on from Christmas Eve till midnight on Boxing Day without a single round being fired. The German I met had been a waiter in London and could use our language a little. He says that didn’t want to fight and I think he was telling the truth as we are not getting half so many bullets as usual. I know this statement will take a bit of believing but it is absolutely correct. Fancy a German shaking your flapper as though he were trying to smash your fingers, and then a few days later trying to plug you. I hardly know what to think about it, but I fancy they are working up a big scheme so that they can give us a doing, but our chaps are prepared, and I am under the impression they will get more than they bargained more.

“We don’t want to kill you, and you don’t want to kill us, so why shoot?”

2nd Lieutenant Cyril Drummond,

135th Battery, Royal Field Artillery

On Boxing day we walked up to the village of St Yvon where the observation was. I soon discovered that places where we were usually shot at were quite safe. There were two sets of front trenches only a few yards apart, and yet there were soldiers, both British and German, standing on top of them, digging or repairing the trench in some way, without ever shooting at each other. It was an extraordinary situation.

In the sunken road I met an officer I knew, and we walked along together so that we could look across to the German front line, which was about seventy yards away. One of the Germans waved to us and said “Come over here”. We said “You come over here if you want to talk”. So he climbed out of his trench and came over towards us. We met, and very gravely saluted each other. He was joined by more Germans, and some of the Dublin Fusiliers from our own trenches came out to join us. No German officer came out, it was only the ordinary soldiers. We talked, mainly in French, because my German was not very good and none og the Germans could speak English well. But managed to get together all right. One of them said, “We don’t want to kill you, and you don’t want to kill us, so why shoot?”

They gave me some German tobacco and German cigars – they seemed to have plenty of those, and very good ones too – and they asked whether we had any jam. One of the Dublin Fusiliers got a tin of jam which had been opened, but very little taken out, and he gave it to a German who gave him two cigars for it. I lined them all up and took a photograph.

Christmas in the trenches

2nd Lieutenant J. D. Wyatt,

2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment

30 December 1915

Same routine as before. Still no war! At about lunchtime however a message came down the line to say that Germans had sent across to say that their General was coming along in the afternoon, so we had better keep down, as they might have to do little shooting to make things look right!!! And this is war!! This we did, and a few shots came over about 3.30 p.m.

Christmas Truce: one year later

Lieutenant Gordon Barber, 1st Battalion,

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders

We had an order from GHQ saying that it was hoped that there would be no repetition of the regrettable recurrences of last Christmas Day, and that any German who ventured to show himself was to be shot at once. We subsequently heard that the Huns had a similar order. Opposite us there was no attempt at a truce, and no insulting messages were shouted across. On our right the French, after singing carols must of the night, and the Huns replying, did go out for about three minutes, and as soon as they got back put over covey of rifle grenades. A true conception of the Christian spirit!

Day carried on as usual, except that we did have plum pudding, flaming with rum, for our dinner.

Bibliography:

Lyn Macdonald, 1914-1918: Voices & Images of the Great War, Michael Joseph, London, 1988