The Marginalian
The Marginalian

The Christmas Truce of 1914: A Heartening Story of Humanity in the Middle of War

In December of 1914, a series of grassroots, unofficial ceasefires took hold of the Western Front in the heat of WWI. On Christmas, soldiers from an estimated 100,000 British and German troops began to exchange seasonal greetings and sing songs across the trenches, some even walked over to their opponents bearing gifts. The incident became one of the most heart-warming displays of humanity in the history of human conflict and was dubbed the Christmas Truce.

Depiction of the Christmas Truce of 1914 by artist A. C. Michael, originally published in the Illustrated London News on January 9, 1915, with the caption “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches.”

From the trenches, a 19-year-old British private by the name of Henry William Williams — a man of confounding contradictions himself, who would go on to become one of the most lyrical nature writers in the English language, an early admirer of Hitler, and an opponent of the Second World War — wrote to his mother on Boxing Day:

Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?

This lovely short film captures the story and spirit of this symbolic moment of peace, grace, and humility amid one of history’s most violent and disgraceful failures of humanity.

Complement with Eleanor Roosevelt’s little-known children’s book about Christmas and hope amid war.

Published December 25, 2010




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