The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 was one of those singular events that would have been impossible had not the fighting on the Western Front in World War I had become static, with opposing trenches filled with armies confronting one another between Switzerland to the English Channel. The truce did not happen again on the scale that it did just five months after the First World War broke out. The 19th Century sense of chivalry that had prevailed that Christmas was soon swallowed up by the merciless brutality of 20th Century warfare that featured poison gas, aerial bombardment, and the first use of tanks and high-speed artillery.

What happened Christmas Eve 1914?

Christmas Eve, German soldiers stopped firing at their opposite numbers and proceeding to sing Christmas carols, sometimes accompanied by brass bands according to the History Channel. The singing brought a reminder of happier times at home to the men on both sides who had been engaged in killing each other ever since the guns of August ruptured the peace of Europe.

The following day, along with some parts of the front, British troops observed German soldiers approaching their lines calling out “Merry Christmas” and other holiday greetings. Noting that their opponents were unarmed, many British soldiers followed suit, meeting their erstwhile enemies in the middle of no man’s land in peace and fellowship.

The actions do not seem to have been organized but rather the spontaneous efforts of ordinary soldiers.

The men on opposite sides of the war shook hands, exchanged gifts, and took a respite from the horror that they had suddenly been thrust into just a few months before. One report exists of a game of soccer breaking out between British and German teams.

The Germans claimed to have won the contest 3 to 2.

What happened next?

The 1914 Christmas Truce started to wind down by dusk as men from opposing sides began to return to their trenches. Even though it was generally understood that the truce was temporary and fighting did resume the next day, not everyone was happy with what happened.

The high commanders of both the British and German armies worked to ensure that the truce did not reoccur. Officers were particularly irate at the idea of their men treating the enemy as human beings.

While occasionally truces broke out along sections of the front during the rest of the First World War, tacitly agreed to so that soldiers could bury their dead and repair fortifications, nothing entirely on the scale of Christmas 1914 ever occurred again.