History of the Christmas Truce of 1914: Peace in the WWI Trenches


Christmas Day brought impromptu football (soccer) matches between the soldiers. This time also afforded the opportunity to bury the dead, and exchange prisoners. The first documented truce was recorded in the War Diary of the 2nd Essex Regiment on December 11, the last one ended at New Year, but it was all unofficial. Perhaps as many as 100,000 soldiers were involved in this truce. Robert Graves, the British writer — known for the novel I, Claudius and the authoritative translation from the Latin of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars — later recounted the football match, parts of which were fictional, with a score of 3–2 for the Germans. No reports were published of the truce for a week, until the New York Times broke the story, in the still-neutral at that time United States.

How unusual was this?

A century and a half earlier, in America during the Revolutionary War German mercenary soldiers from Hesse, hired to fight for the British, were making merry during Christmas. The American soldiers under General George Washington took advantage of this to cross the Deleware River on Christmas night and surprise attack them on December 26, 1776, at the Battle of Trenton.


While this temporary Christmas Truce of WWI was attempted a year later at Neuve Chapelle among other places, the armistice was not repeated. Instead, threats of court-martial and shooting of deserters were ordered by superior officers. Indeed, Ian Calhoun, the Scottish Commanding Officer of the British forces was subsequently court-marshaled for “consorting with the enemy” and sentenced to death. Only King George V of England spared him from that fate. Ironically, George V — known in modern times from the Academy Award-winning movie The King’s Speech (reviewed here) as the father of “Bertie” — was the first cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and was the first monarch of the House of Windsor, having changed his name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a politically incorrect German name during World War I.

Writer and technologist. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, and pop culture. billpetro.com @billpetro

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