The Spirit of Christmas

“There is just one season in the year when men seem able to realise for a moment what the Incarnation means for us all; and never was this so strikingly seen as in the Flanders trenches at Christmas, 1914.

“Just before Christmas there had been some attacks and counter-attacks here and there, and many casualties, but as the holy season drew closer the firing seemed to die down by a general instinct. On Christmas Eve in some sectors the German parapet was decorated with candles and the singing of carols was heard. In the morning from trench to trench were shouted greetings, and all along the line the bolder spirits began walking into no-man’s-land for a talk with equally adventurous enemies. Officers entered into the spirit of the proceedings, and as the day went on a good part of both armies had left their trenches and were fraternising in crowds between the lines, exchanging cigarettes and chocolate from their Christmas parcels.

“An eye-witness, writing twenty years after (in Reynolds’ News), says: ‘Our brigade was composed of the Gordon Highlanders, the Scots Guards, and the Border Regiment. On Christmas Eve a seventy-two-hour truce was arranged to bury the dead. We sent German identification discs and pay-books to the German lines. They replied by sending similar grim relics to our lines. We fraternised, exchanged views and rations. . . . When the truce ended the Germans fired three volleys in the air to indicate that hostilities were resumed. Even so, about twenty Germans were still walking about unarmed on the top of their trenches, and our lads did not attempt to shoot them down. Indeed, although many of us were threatened with court-martial, our unofficial armistice lasted for fourteen days.’

“Another (Seaforth Highlanders): ‘On Christmas Eve German soldiers began to shout across that they wanted Christmas without firing. At first it was regarded as a joke. As night advanced there seemed to be more sentiment in the German’s shouting, and one of our fellows, a daredevil corporal named Davie Flint, cried : “If you’re not afraid, come right over.” Someone came. Davie threw off his equipment and jumped forward to meet him. Others followed, and for four days Germans and Seaforths ¬†exchanged smokes and rations. It was glorious. We enjoyed the utmost freedom and officers joined in our rejoicing. Then we went out for our four-days’ rest. On returning the Colonel said that fraternisation must cease, we were at war. A German was coming towards us. The Colonel shouted to him to go back. He failed to do so, and orders were given to fire over his head. This was done. The Germans replied with five shells. That is the true story of the first Noel of the war, before Messines in 1914.’ (Isaac Sefton, Airdrie.)

“Another: ‘I was serving with the 2nd Bedfords. The Germans put lanterns on the front of their trenches and called out to us not to fire as it was Christmas. There was singing on both sides. Before long British and German soldiers were exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs in no-man’s-land. We were later relieved by the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and our opposite number, the Saxons, by the Prussian Guards Orders were at once given reminding us that we were at war. Shots were fired over the heads of the Germans. Hostilities resumed. I don’t know what happened to the Saxon soldier who was a waiter in a London hotel. If he had the luck to come through it all, here’s Christmas greetings to him from G. L. Joyce, Peterborough.’

“The Christmas spirit could go on all the year round if our Faith in the first Christmas was strong enough.”

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)