by Paul Bommer
DECEMBER 11 Christmas Truce
Illustration by Paul Bommer
Used by permission
This image commemorates those extraordinary moments around Christmas 1914, at the start of World War I, when men from both sides come together in a act of defiance and goodwill. Although there was no official truce, about 100,000 British and German troops were involved in unofficial cessations of fighting along the length of the Western Front. The first truce started on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German Troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Flanders in modern-day Belgium.
The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas Carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across the 'No Man's Land' where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. The fraternisation was not, however, without its risks; some soldiers were shot by opposing forces. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but it continued until New Year's Day in others.
General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, was irate when he heard what was happening, and issued strict orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops. In the following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to try to ensure that there were no further lulls in the combat. Troops were also rotated through various sectors of the front to prevent them from becoming overly familiar with the enemy. However, situations of deliberate dampening of hostilities also occurred. For example, artillery was fired at precise points, at precise times, to avoid enemy casualties by both sides.
On Christmas Day, after a night of carol singing, a private with the Welsh Fusiliers recalled that feelings of goodwill had so swelled up that at dawn Bavarian and British soldiers clambered spontaneously out of their trenches. A football was produced from somewhere—though none could recall from where. "It wasn't a game as such, more a kick-around and a free-for-all. There could have been 50 on each side for all I know. I played because I really liked football. I don't know how long it lasted, probably half an hour."
A wonderful moment of hope and peace in that awful conflict that was then the costliest in Human history.
Peace on Earth, Good-will to all Men.
From Paul Bommer: Illustration, design & Print-making. Used by permission.