On Christmas Day 1914 British and German soldiers along the Western Front held an unofficial truce that gave rise to a number of impromptu meetings out in ‘no man’s land’. Besides the exchange of seasonal greetings and small gifts, knockabout games of football replaced the fighting in this brief interlude to the horrors of war.
No one ordered it and none in High Command approved of it, yet as the first Christmas of the war approached it was perhaps inevitable that a mood of goodwill would somehow seep into the war-torn trenches of the Western Front.
It started on Christmas Eve; the plaintive sound of beautifully sung yet somehow familiar carols coming from the German trenches, along which small fir trees had been placed alongside tiny twinkling lanterns. The tunes drifted amidst the snowflakes in the still night air that lay across the bleak, frozen no-man’s land that separated the two opposing armies. The British ‘Tommies’ were quick to respond, shouting back their own messages of seasonal goodwill until somehow – and no one knows just when or exactly how – an impromptu truce was arranged for the following day.
But would it hold?
Dawn on that freezing Christmas morning was met by an uncanny silence along trenches dusted by snow, everyone holding their breath in anticipation of what might happen. And then the first, more adventurous soldiers emerged from both sides, all unarmed as they climbed out of their lines – ‘you no shoot, we no shoot’ came the challenge. It was accepted and small groups of men trudged warily towards each other in the few hundred yards of ‘no man’s land’. Others quickly followed and then they met, enemies standing face to face until someone muttered the first hello, followed by a smile and hesitant handshake. It was Christmas and the ice was broken, photographs taken and small gifts began to be exchanged – a cigarette given here, another returned there, a can of bully beef swapped for a cigar, a bottle of beer for a button for there wasn’t much to offer except the recognition that humanity still existed in this terrible place. Someone from somewhere produced a football and if by magic there was laughter in the all too brief knockabout.
After a few hours it was over but, as the men fell slowly back to their own trenches, many would never forget that Christmas Day when a truce, tolerance and goodwill stopped the fighting – if only for a day.
Completed in Richard’s ‘trademark’ style of graphite, wash and coloured highlights on antique buff paper, this atmospheric piece serves as a lasting tribute to all those who fought in the trenches during the Great War.