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What was the Christmas Truce?


Christmas in No Man's Land
9th January 1915: 'Christmas Truce in the Trenches : Friend and Foe Join in a Hare Hunt'. Original Artwork: Drawing by Gilbert Holliday, from a description by an eye witness rifleman.
9th January 1915: 'Christmas Truce in the Trenches : Friend and Foe Join in a Hare Hunt'. Original Artwork: Drawing by Gilbert Holliday, from a description by an eye witness rifleman.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

No Man's Land became a meeting ground, as muddy, cold soldiers emerged from their trenches. The very same pudding and chocolate sent to soldiers from home in Berlin and London served as impromptu Christmas gifts between men who had just hours before shot at one another. Soldiers exchanged jokes and tobacco. One German, a juggler, put on a show in the middle of No Man's Land. The English produced a soccer ball and a pick up game broke out. The Germans won 3-2 [source: Rees].

The extent of the Christmas Truce is amazing. In some places fighting continued, but this was unusual. In some areas, officers established truces. In others, rank-and-file soldiers established trust. Some soldiers defied direct orders from their commanding officers and met up with enemies who were, for the moment, no longer their foes. In other cases, officers encouraged the truces, or at least didn't intervene.

But as both sides' high commands ordered soldiers to get back to war, the shooting began again. In some places, though, the peace lasted until after the New Year.

Eventually, the hope of a lasting peace, provoked by the men in the trenches who were asked to fight the war, faded into the sky over Flanders with the gun smoke. The Christmas Truce ended, and the war continued for four more years. While the spontaneous peace which took place on Christmas 1914 must have seemed like a dream, it's even more surreal that the soldiers took up arms against one another again afterward.

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