Christmas 1914 and the war wasn’t over. No-one knew better than the men stuck in freezing cold trenches. In many places along the front line, the German and British front trenches were within earshot of each other and opposing soldiers exhanged seasonal greetings and sang songs. Some had even decorated their trenches.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers ventured out into no-man’s-land, where they shook hands, exchanged food and souvenirs, and sang carols todether. Some famously played games of football. Burial parties gathered up the dead in safety and took them away.
Illustrator Bruce Bairnsfather (Illustrated London News), who witnessed the truce near Saint-Yvon, wrote: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.”
This poignant episode shows how little enmity there actually was between the ordinary British and German soldiers at this point in the war. The truce was not universal and in some areas fighting continued during the day, but it was widely, and positively, reported in the British press at the time, and has become one of the most legendary episodes of WW1.
Even when the fighting continued, soldiers tried to make Christmas special. Some men enjoyed food hampers or other treats received from family or well-wishers, while others used whatever they could find to cook their own Christmas meal.