The following is a remarkable description by an officer at the front of how the British and Germans ceased hostilities at his part of the line on Christmas Day.

Christmas will remain engraved on the memory of many British soldiers who were in our trenches here as one of the most extraordinary days of their lives.

For on that day British and Germans ceased fighting with each other for an interval, came out into the open between their respective firing lines, buried their dead, and held a short service in their memory.

Our chaplain had come with the colonel to officiate at the funeral in our trench of one of our Scottish soldiers. During the progress of the solemn rites it was noticed that one or two fellows were standing outside. No attention was paid to this till the service ended, when the colonel shouted: “Come inside, men!” The reply was that some Germans were standing outside theirs. Gradually more and more of the enemy - some of them officers by their uniform - appeared, none of them armed.

At last our commanding officer resolved to get out and see for himself. The chaplain jumped up into the open at his heels, and crossing a ditch which runs down the middle of the field between the lines cried: “Does anyone speak English?” As reply a private stepped forward, and then to our amazement we saw our chaplain cross the ditch, salute the German commander and his staff, and begin to talk with them. Almost at the same time a hare burst into view and ran along between the trenches. All at once Germans came scurrying from their trenches and British from theirs, and a marvelous thing happened. It was all like a football match, the hare being the football, the grey tunicked Germans the one side, and the kilted “Jocks” the other. The game was won by the Germans, who captured the prize. But more was secured than a hare - a sudden friendship had been struck up, the truce of God had been called, and for the rest of Christmas Day not a shot was fired along our section.

Dotted over the sixty yards separating our trenches were scores and scores of dead soldiers, and soon spades were flung up by comrades on guard in both trenches, and by instinct each side set to dig graves for their dead. Our padre had seized his chance and found the German commander very ready to agree that after the dead had been buried a short service should take place. He told us that the German commander and his officers were as anxious as the British could be to keep Christmas Day as a day of peace, that was quite in keeping with the behaviour of the Germans, who had kept up only an occasional firing on Christmas Eve, and were very busy singing carols and glees.

We did not know all that was being said, but afterwards we asked the padre two questions. The one was, “Why did you and the German commander take off your hats to one another?” What happened, as we learned was:

The German took his cigar case out and offered the padre a cigar, which was accepted. The padre said: “May I be allowed not to smoke, but to keep this as a souvenir of Christmas here and of meeting you on Christmas Day?” The answer, with a laugh, was: “Oh, yes, but can’t you give me a souvenir?” Then the hats came off. For the souvenir the padre gave was the copy of “The Soldier’s Prayer” which he had carried in the lining of his cap since the war began, and the German officer, in accepting it, took off his cap and put the slip in its lining, saying as he did it: “I value this because I believe what it says and when the war is over I shall take it out and give it as a keepsake to my youngest child. “The second question was, “What was in the notebook the German commander showed you?” The answer was that he had been shown the name and address in England of a certain brave British officer. He had been killed, and as he was dying the commander happened to pass and saw him struggling to get something out of his pocket. He went up and helped the dying officer, and the thing in the pocket was a photograph of his wife. The commander said, “I held it before him, and he lay there looking at it till he died a few minutes after.” Our padre took down the name and address and has been able to pass on the information to the bereaved home.

The whole German staff showed a fine spirit of respect during the service for the dead. On one side of the ditch half way between the two lines stood German officers with their soldiers about them; on the other the officers of the British regiments in the section with their soldiers about them, and between was our chaplain as interpreter, and a German was read, sentence by sentence, by the student after the English form had been recited.

It was a memorable sight to see officers and men who had been fighting and as I write are fighting against one another as fiercely as ever, bareheaded, reverent, and keeping sacred truce as they did homage to the memory of the dead on Christmas Day, 1914.

Daily Mail, 1st January 1915

Some quotations have been taken from a booklet available at the “On Flanders Fields Museum”

“They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do. Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.”
(The doings of the 15th Infantry Brigade”, Count Gleichen, Brigadier General 15th Brigade, 1915)

“Front line, 1.1.15. ‘Don’t shoot!’ we said to each other. We showed our faces. We laughed. We beckoned, ‘Come here!’ They threw packets of cigarettes. We threw back oranges and apples. A few men came out to pick up the fruit that had fallen in front of the trenches. We waved a bottle. This fair-haired Boche, strapping and smooth-faced, threw him-self at everything we gave him. Soon, there were more than twenty heads showing above the trench. We didn’t try to hide, either. Two Germans came up. One explained to us that it was us who should go over to them. The other suddenly exclaimed, ‘Ah! I’ve had enough!’ and jumped into our trench, where he finished his speech.’I’m from Alsace, and I’m coming with you!’ He was from the 126th.”
(War Diary, Maurice Laurentin, Lieutenant, ppeme Regiment d’Infanterie.)

“One of the lads from our company waved a placard over the trench with the inscription ‘Happy Christmas’. Soon the British did the same. One Englishman called out to ask us in good German whether we wanted to take away the dead which lay between the two positions. (At that point there were between 50 and 60 dead in front of our company’s sector.) After a short pause for thought, we agreed, and some of our lads left the trenches at the same time as the British. Later, the British again asked us to sing Christmas carols.”
(Diary, Leutnant der Reserve Meinicke, I.R. iyg.)

“The ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where but it came from their side. It was just a general kickabout. I should think there were a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us...”
(Interview, Ernie Williams, Private, 6th C.heshires)

“One Englishman was playing on the harmonica of a German lad, some were dancing, while others were proud as peacocks to wear German helmets on their heads. The British burst into song with a carol, to which we replied with ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’. It was a very moving moment - hated and embittered enemies were singing carols around the Christmas tree. All my life I will never forget that sight. We saw that men carried on living, even when they are reduced to killing and butchery… Christmas 1914 will remain unforgettable for me.”
(Letter to his parents, Josef Wenzl, R.1.R. r6, 28/12/1914)

“Wishing you a very happy Christmas and to a speedy ending to the War!
(L.A. Praer, 1st Devonshire (15th Bde, 5th Div.), Christmas greetings written and handed over personally in No Man’s Land to Gefreite Max Herold, 8. Kompanie R.I.R. 16.)

“I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think and, being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons.
We both then said things to each other which neither understood, and agreed to do a swap. I brought out my wire-clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange.”
(Bruce Bairnsfather, 2nd Lt. 1st Royal Warwickshires)

“Troops from both sides rose from their holes in the ground to stretch their legs and then to fraternise in No Man’s Land between the trenches - a happy state of affairs which in our section continued for about ten days.
Many souvenirs were exchanged, ranging from buttons and badges to cigars received from the Kaiser. The prize souvenir was the celebrated ‘Pickelhaube’. Our currency in this bartering was Bully Beef and Tickler’s Plum and Apple, so called jam. They asked for marmelade (sic) but we had not seen any ourselves since we left England.
The following day a voice called out: “Yesterday I give you my hat for the Bullybiff. I have grand inspection tomorrow. You lend me and I bring it back after.” The loan was made and the pact was kept, sealed with some extra bully.”
(John Wedderburn-Maxwell, a British Officer who served with 45th, 1st and 36th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery on the Western Front 1914 - 1918, recalls his ‘fraternisation’ with German soldiers on Boxing Day 1914. They discussed conditions in the trenches and the futility of the war. Wedderburn-Maxwell mentions the famous football match in No Man’s Land between German and British troops, although he recalls that the ground was far too uneven for such a game in his part of the front. At midnight on Boxing Day they returned to the ‘job of war’, signalled with a round of artillery fire from the British. )

“There was a party, oh a couple of hundred yards away, of our troops and the Germans all fraternizing. And so I said: “Right, I’m going to go outside and have a look at this”. And I told the infantry to keep an eye on me, in case anyone tried any rough housing so they’d know what was happening. And I went up and I met a small party who said, “Come along into our trenches and have a look at us” and I said, “No, I’m quite near enough as it is!”. And we laughed and we chaffed each other and I gave them some English tobacco and they gave me some German - I forget what it was - and we walked about for about half an hour in No Man’s Land. And then we shook hands, wished each other luck, and one fellow said: “Will you send this off to my girlfriend in Manchester?”. And so I took his letter, and I franked it and sent it off to his girlfriend in Manchester when I got back.”
(Letter, Frank and Maurice Wray, Privates, 5th London Rifle Brigade.)

“Comical sights were to be seen. The hares on the open ground had lost their heads for certain. All of a sudden, their Eldorado was peopled with human beings. Tommy and Fritz were hunting them with one accord… Then a Scotsman brought out a football. That led to a proper match, with caps as goal posts. It had to be seen to be believed on that frozen field… The match ended 3-2 to Fritz.
On the occasion of that match, our lancers were quick to notice that the Scots were not wearning underpants under their kilts.”
(Letter, Johannes Niemann, Oberstlt. S?chsische LR. 133)

“The German Company-Commander asked ours if he would accept a couple of barrels of beer. They had plenty of it in the brewery. He accepted the offer with thanks and a couple of their men rolled the barrels over and we took them into our trench. The German officer sent one of his men back to the trench, who appeared shortly after carrying a tray with bottles and glasses on it. Officers of both sides clinked glasses and drank one another?s health. Our Company-Commander had pre-sented them with a plum pudding just before. The officers came to an understanding that the unofficial truce would end at midnight. At dusk we went back to our respective trenches.”
(’Old Soldiers Never Die’, Frank Richards, Private, and Royal Welch Fusiliers)

“All sorts of stories have been circulated regarding the meeting of the enemy and British troops between the trenches. Luckily the troops holding our immediate line of trenches just waited until the Germans got out of the trenches, then they let them have it, rapid fire; it stopped any of this ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ sort of nonsense.”
(Diary, Bryden McKinnell, Captain 10th King’s (Liverpool Scottish), 14/1/1915)

Finally, an interesting observation…
“What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and said some other method must be found of settling the dispute!”
(Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, Letter, November 1914)