The 1914 Christmas Truce

Illustrated London Times

Between the start of World War I in August 1914, and the end of November 1914, a number of large battles were fought as the Imperial German Army first advanced into France on a strict timetable under the Schlieffen Plan, and then was beaten back by the strong defenses of Belgium, France and the BEF (British Expeditionary Force). In August 1914, alone, four large battles, Lorraine, Ardennes, Charleroi and Mons, had occurred. On August 29 the Allied forces counterattacked at Guise, but eventually retreated. August 1914 left 300,000 casualties on both sides, the start of the 16 million who would eventually lose their lives in World War I. The Great War has the distinction of being the first war in history where more lives were lost in battle than to the various diseases that inevitably accompany war.

In September the German advance began again, but was blocked at Nancy. Other attacks on major cities failed and by late September the German army was digging in on the north side of the river Aisne. Thereafter, both sides began a race to the sea in an attempt to outflank each other’s northern flank, circle behind enemy lines and be in position to attack from the rear. Both sides failed to outflank the other and by the end of November 1914 the Western Front was established and trench warfare began and would last for four years, until the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

On Christmas Eve 1914 a remarkable and unique thing occurred. At various places all along the 500-mile Western Front hostilities spontaneously stopped, Allied and German soldiers sang Christmas carols to each other, met in no man’s land, exchanged gifts, and played soccer. I have previously written in more detail about this strange incident in 2014 and you can read that post here.  The informal truce lasted for several days. The only report of disapproval of this cease-fire was lodged by a petulant German corporal named Adolph Hitler.

 

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