THE  TWO MIRACLES OF DECEMBER 23rd 1914

The Great War (WW1) commenced in August 1914 and the first five months the fighting was relentless.  Thousands and thousands of men had been killed or wounded but neither side had gained more than a few yards.  The repulsion of trench warfare was that so many were dying for so little progress.  

When the winter months arrived the conditions became almost insufferable.  The trenches flooded with rain and snow.  It was freezing and wet.  Mixed with the slime lay half-submerged bodies.  Often soldiers slept standing up leaning against the dripping trench walls whilst standing knee deep in muddy water.  While rats invaded their meagre rations, lice infested their bodies.  Toilets were non-existent.  You can forgive the soldiers from becoming animalistic whilst living like this but by December blood lust was giving way to fellow feeling.  A ‘live and let live’ attitude was developing, which worried the British high command. British dead in a trench
German dead The first miracle of December 23rd 1914 started as day give way to night.  At first the men of the Berkshire Regiment could not believe their eyes.  Something strange was happening right in front of them, where the German trenches faced theirs.  A small, sparkling, conical shape appeared above the German parapet.  Then another appeared followed by another and another.  Soon there was an entire row, which twinkled in the dark empty sky. 
They were Christmas trees.  Spellbound, the Berkshires began crawling out of their trenches.  Although fraternising with the enemy was forbidden, their officers turned a blind eye to what was going on.  The German infantrymen were Saxons of XIX Corps, and they too left their trenches.  Cautiously the two groups met amidst the barbed wire and bomb craters.  The Saxons explained that the candle lit Christmas trees were of greater importance to them than the war.

No Mans Land

German funeral

Apparently thousands of little conifers had been sent to the front line so the soldiers would not forgo this most cherished symbol of the festive season.   Word got back to the Saxon major that two British officers were waiting, by the wire, to speak to him.  It was agreed there would be an informal truce for the whole of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  During the next forty-eight hours similar ceasefires broke out along the whole length of the Western Front.

To the disgust of the Generals of both sides their men simply laid down their arms and befriended their enemies in a spontaneous gesture of peace and goodwill. An article appeared in The Scotsman newspaper stating that the two sides, which were only sixty yards apart, were becoming ‘very pally’.  Shouts of ‘Englander’ or ‘Tommy’ would be answered with ‘Jerry’ or ‘Fritz’.

Distribution of cigarettes
 King George V As most of the Germans had at one time worked over the Channel language was not a problem.  The Army top brass issued a directive forbidding the fraternisation but it was ignored.  Alarmed at this the British high command, twenty-seven miles behind the trenches issued the following warning, “It is thought possible the enemy may be contemplating an attack during Christmas or New Year.  Special vigilance will be maintained during this period”. 
The threat was largely ineffectual as the Christmas spirit took hold.  The Germans had received Christmas trees and presents from home.  The British had each received an oblong box, from the daughter of King George V, Princess Mary.  Inside was tobacco or sweets for the non-smoker and a card from the King stating, ‘May God protect you and bring you home safely’.  Even the weather turned seasonal as the rain stopped and a heavy frost solidified the mud.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Fiddler

The reports that followed included alternate singing of carols and folk songs, the sharing of drink and food, and the burying of bodies by unarmed men from both camps working side by side. But perhaps the most frequently reported event was a regulation football match, using caps as goalposts.  The final score was ‘3/2 fur Fritz’.

On Boxing Day Captain Stockwell of the Welsh Fusiliers had three shots fired into the air, posted a sign reading ‘Merry Christmas’ and climbed atop of his parapet. The Germans quickly displayed a sign saying ‘Thank You’ and their company commander stood proudly on his own parapet.  The two officers faced each other bowed, saluted and then descended into their own trenches.  The German captain then fired two shots into the air.  The war recommenced.   

 Two British soldiers Christmas 1914

Amid the unutterable hell of the Flanders and Normandy battlefields, the sudden cessation of hostilities seemed like, or perhaps it was, a miracle.  

Mary Poole

Oh yes, the second miracle of December 23rd 1914 was the birth of Mary Poole, my mother.


BACK TO TOP