The Christmas Truce of 1914

At Christmas time in 1914 an amazing event occurred at numerous places along the trench lines on the Western Front. The guns fell silent; soldiers declared a temporary truce and celebrated Christmas with each other. Remember, the trench lines were close enough that the opposing troops could yell back and forth. This allowed them to exchange greetings of the season. They met in No Man’s Land and shared Christmas treats and beverages. They also sang Christmas songs together. And, it is even said that the English played soccer against the Germans. The holiday truce experience was not total; in some areas fighting continued. (See After Christmas Day, the soldiers returned to trying to kill each other.

Although similar isolated truces occurred in 1915, this phenomenal event, as experienced in 1914, was never repeated because of the very negative reaction of the officer corps. Officers on both sides made it clear that a repeat would be met with the strictest punishment. The following year, the British infantry was ordered to “maintain a slow gun fire on the enemy’s trenches” during the holiday. After 1915, due to the increasing death tolls and the use of poison gas that caused the belief that the other side was less than human, there were no similar efforts. (Id.; Jennings and Brewster, The Century, p. 51.) For an in-depth narrative about the Christmas Truce, see Weintraub, Silent Night: The Story of The World War I Christmas Truce.)

The Christmas Truce is memorialized in the following songs:

“Belleau Wood, sung by Garth Brooks; songwriters Joe Henry and Garth Brooks (1997). (

Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared
By both sides of the fight
As we lay there in our trenches
The silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing
A song that we all knew

Though I did not know the language
The song was “Silent Night”

Then I heard my buddy whisper,
“All is calm and all is bright”
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me
‘Cause I’d die if I was wrong
But I stood up in my trench
And I began to sing along

Then across the frozen battlefield
Another’s voice joined in
Until one by one each man became
A singer of the hymn

Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
‘Neath the falling flakes of white
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say
Here’s hoping we both live
To see us find a better way

Then the devil’s clock struck midnight
And the skies lit up again
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again

But for just one fleeting moment
The answer seemed so clear
Heaven’s not beyond the clouds
It’s just beyond the fear

No, heaven’s not beyond the clouds
It’s for us to find it here

“Christmas in the Trenches” was written and sung by John McCutcheon (1984). (

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.
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen field 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 lyin’ with my mess-mates 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 singin’ 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 cloud rolled no more
as Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished 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 commin’ towards us,” the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
as he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night.

Then one by one, on either side walked into no-mans-land
with neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and 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?”
It was 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 forever more.

My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned it’s 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.

“Christmas 1914, written and sung by Mike Harding (1977). (

Christmas Eve in 1914,
Star’s are burning, burning bright,
And all along the Western Front,
Guns were lying still and quiet,
Men lay dosing in the trenches,
In the cold and in the dark,
And far away behind the lines,
A village dog began to bark,

Some lay thinking of their families,
Some sang song’s while others were quiet,
Rolling fags and playing bragg,
To pass away this Christmas night,
As they watched the German trenches,
Something moved in No-Man’s-Land,
And through the dark there came a Soldier.
Carrying a white flag in his hand,

Then from both sides men came running,
Crossing into No-Man’s-Land,
Through the barbed wire, mud and shell holes,
Shyly stood there shaking hands,
Fritz brought out cigars and brandy,
Tommy brought corned beef and fags,
Stood there talking, laughing, singing,
As the moon shone down on No-Man’s-Land,

Christmas Day we all played football,
In the mud of No-Man’s-Land,
Tommy brought some Christmas pudding,
Fritz brought out a German band,
When they beat us at the football,
We shared out all the grub and drink,
And Fritz showed me a faded photo,
Of a brown haired girl, back in Berlin,

For days after, no one fired,
Not one shell disturbed the night,
For Old Fritz and Tommy Atkins,
They’d both lost the will to fight,
So they withdrew us from the trenches,
Sent us far behind the lines,
Sent fresh troops to take our places,
Told the guns, prepare to fire,

And next day in 1914,
Flares were burning, burning bright,
The message came, prepare offensive,
Over the top, we’re going tonight.
And men stood waiting in the trenches,
Looked out across our football park,
And all along the Western Front,
The Christmas guns began to bark,
Men stood waiting, in the trenches,
Looked out across our football park,
And all along the Western Front,
The Christmas guns began to bark.