Skip to comments.The Christmas truce between the Germans and the British
Posted on 12/23/2012 6:42:43 PM PST by RaceBannon
My dear sister Janet,
It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugoutsyet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve.
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My dear sister Janet,
It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugoutsyet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadnt been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!
As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.
But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a snipers bullet.
And the rainit has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come muda good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get outjust like in that American story of the tar baby!
Through all this, we couldnt help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. Whats more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Mans Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wireyet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.
Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.
Just yesterday morningChristmas Eve Daywe had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.
During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didnt count on it. Wed been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.
I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, Come and see! See what the Germans are doing! I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.
I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.
What is it? I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, Christmas trees!
And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.
And then we heard their voices raised in song.
Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .
There was a great movie made about this, “Joyeux Noel.”
I remember seeing a program on TV about the battle of Monte Cassino. One German soldier who was interviewed many years later said the British troops were trying to attack them by climbing the nearly vertical mountain.
He said the Officer who ordered the attack must have been crazy. A large number of British troops were killed. During a lull in the battle the Germans offered them a truce to collect their wounded and dead. The program said the German medics and soldiers even helped collect them and temporarily treat them.
I think the fact that both sides were largely Christian played a part in it.
McCartney (tho I can’t stand him) did a song about this IIRC:
During the battle of Fredricksburg, the Union attack at Mayre’s Heights was repulsed with the attackers suffering 8,000 casualties.
During the night, the Confederates could hear the wounded Union soldiers lying in front of their lines crying out for water. A Confederate soldier finally couldn’t stand it and went around and gathered canteens from his fellow troops.
He then went out in the dark and began trying to help those dying of thirst etc. The Union troops saw him and began firing but they quickly realized what he was doing and stopped the shooting.
I saw years ago a Hallmark Tv movie with Linda Hamilton playing the widow in a true story about a German mother and son allowing German and American soldiers in for Christmas supper (they were caught in a snow storm)...as long as both parties don’t shoot each other during Christmas eve and eat like civilized people.
Garth Brooks wrote a song about the Christmas truce as well, although he took historic liberties by titling it “Belleau Wood,” which had nothing to do with the truce. Apart from that, it’s not a bad tune:
Thought the same thing: two Chritian nations and shared values. We couldn’t do that with the Japanese in WWII or the Muslims now.
The story of how Franz Stigler decided not to shoot down lt. Charlie Brown’s B-17 after a bombing run over Germany.
One of the Ambrose WW 2 books had a story about Christmas Eve during the battle of the bulge. Germans holding American prisoners in a Belgian farmhouse singing Silent Night together and sharing the family meal. That always comes back to me every Christmas.
I recall reading in a British newspaper about ten years ago about British troops who were in a German POW camp in Christmas 1944. These troops had already spent many years in captivity many having been captured before Dunkirk in May 1940.
The Tommies after so long in camp had developed a reasonably civilized structure and had been planning a big Christmas celebration from as early as September, they organized a Christmas show and the highlight of the day would be a big Christmas feast which would comprise food and treats from Red Cross parcels they had all been hoarding for months, going without so that they could have a great blow out on Christmas.
Then a night or two before Christmas hundreds of GIs the Germans had captured in the Bulge were suddenly brought into the camp. The writer described the shock to the old British lags, most of whom had got long in the tooth behind the wire, at the sight of the American lads. They were so young and so many were half frozen and in a state of shock, for most of the GIs were still teenaged recruits many of whom hadn’t heard a shot fired in anger before being taken.
The GIs were barely able to talk and seemed too dazed even to know where they were. The Brits then gathered up all the cigarettes, food and chocolate and other supplies they had been hoarding and stuffed the pockets of the GIs, giving them too whatever spare clothes and blankets they had. The next morning the Germans transferred the Americans to some other camp deeper in Germany.
Most of the GIs would have had no idea where they had been or who had given them the food and cigarettes. The Brits never heard anything more about them having no idea what units they came from, where they had been captured or where they were sent.
The Christmas celebrations in the camp were much more subdued that year than had been planned but the British prisoners regretted nothing, glad that they’d been able to help the young lads who were still fighting to get them out and aware that they had witnessed the true message of Christmas.
On this date, December 23, in 1944, the stormy skies that had dominated Belgium for weeks finally cleared, allowing the air corps to drop badly needed supplies to the encircled 101st airborn division at Bastogne. As one G.I. observed, “Seeing all those planes and parachutes seemed to us that we were witnessing a miracle, it was a warming and beautiful sight.”
The gritty and successful defense of this major road hub by the Screaming Eagles was completed with the arrival of elements of the 3d Army on the day after Christmas. The final offensive by the National Socialists ruling Germany was blunted and turned back. There was no truce, and little singing but it was a Christmas like no other in Bastogne.
The Farm’s song “All Together Now”
John McCutcheon tells of the old Germans who came to hear him sing his song, "Christmas in the Trenches."
Another video of a live performance of the same song, Christmas in the Trenches - written and performed by John McCutcheon