World War I soldiers’ Christmas truce, new evidence

This music video is called Christmas in the Trenches – written and performed by John McCutcheon.

On Christmas Day 1914 all sides in World War I laid down their weapons and made peace by playing a game of soccer.

Here come the lyrics of the song Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon:

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool,
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung,
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht,” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
“There’s someone coming towards us!” the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore.

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I I’ve learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

This video from Britain says about itself:

The Christmas Truce on the Western Front of 1914 from the film Oh! What A Lovely War accompanied by the music Stille Nacht – Silent Night.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

First World War Centenary: British general’s letter reveals details of 1914 Christmas Day truce

General Sir Walter Congreve VC observed the opposing sides sharing cigars and playing football

Antonia Molloy

Thursday 04 December 2014

A newly-discovered letter written during the First World War reveals astonishing details about the well-known truce on Christmas Day in 1914 – and one British general’s reluctance to mix with the Germans.

Unearthed by archivists, the letter, written by General Sir Walter Congreve VC, provides a graphic first-hand account of troops from opposing sides sharing cigars and playing football as fierce fighting continued nearby in northern France.

It was donated to Staffordshire’s archive service in the 1970s and came to light during research to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war.

The remarkable document, which was sent to Sir Walter’s wife, reveals how news of the Christmas Day football match spread quickly along the front line.

But Sir Walter, who led the Rifles Brigade and drafted the letter after visiting trenches near Neuve Chapelle, declined to join in.

He wrote: “I found an extraordinary state of affairs – this am a German shouted out that they wanted a day’s truce and would one come out if he did.

“So very cautiously one of our men lifted himself above the parapet and saw a German doing the same.

“Both got out then more and finally all day long in that particular place they have been walking about together all day giving each other cigars and singing songs.”

The senior commander, who survived the war despite losing his left hand in action, said he was reluctant to take part for fear that shots might be fired at such a high-ranking officer.

“I was invited to go and see the Germans myself but refrained as I thought they might not be able to resist a general,” he wrote.

“My informant, one of the men, said he had had a fine day of it & had smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army, then not more than 18.

“They say he’s killed more of our men than any other 12 together but I know now where he shoots from and I hope we down him tomorrow.

“I hope devoutly they will.”

The letter, which will be put on public display at Stafford’s Records Office tomorrow, goes on to chronicle how some battalions continued to exchange fire, while others played football with their German counterparts.

Commenting on the letter, Cllr Ben Adams, cabinet member responsible for Archives at Staffordshire County Council, said: “The 1914 Christmas Day truce is one of the iconic memories of World War One and to have such a detailed account from a high-ranking officer, written on the actual day is a real gem.

“The fact that the letter has come to light in the year we commemorate the centenary of the Great War makes its existence even more special.

“We are incredibly proud to be the custodian of such a valuable document which we will protect and preserve so it can be shared and enjoyed by generations for years to come.” …

Sir Walter, who was born in Chatham, Kent, was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy during the Second Boer War in 1899.

His son, Major William La Touche Congreve, was also honoured with a Victoria Cross after being killed in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

See also here.

“We’re doing this show because it’s important for socialists to push back against First World War celebrations. Our set is going to focus on resistance during the First World War. We’ve got a song about the football match that took place on Christmas Day 1914″: here.

4 thoughts on “World War I soldiers’ Christmas truce, new evidence

  1. Pingback: World War I and animals, exhibition | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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