The 1914 Christmas Truce

Posted by Pete on 24th Dec 2017

In the First World War records of the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment of the Imperial German Army, there's a lonely paragraph which stands out from the pages and pages of battle reports and casualty statistics.

It recounts a "droll scene of Tommy und Fritz" this time of year back in 1914.

The Saxon Regiment had been deployed in Flanders, opposite a unit of Scottish Highlanders. Anyone who's grown up in Britain has heard what happened when Christmas came around.

Up and down the British section of the Western Front, our troops and the Germans spontaneously agreed a festive ceasefire.

Ceasefires soon became carol singing, which became gatherings in No-Man's-Land. And, in some places, these gatherings became international football matches.

The 133rd Royal Saxons played in one of these fixtures. It's written in their war record that what began as Germans and Scots chasing after rabbits in-between the lines, "developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter. Then we organised each side into teams, lining up in motley rows, the football in the centre. The game ended 3-2 for Fritz."

A truce found in football

Germany beating us at football – nothing strange about that.

In fact, there's not much that seems strange to me about this scene.

Improvising goal posts with spare clothes takes me back to school. I'm a goalkeeper so I remember particularly well bruising myself diving around on frosty ground in the winter months.

I'm also used to spending time with Germans without shooting at them. As a student at Oxford, I had a history tutor from Germany – Sebastian – for all three years. Not once did we throw a grenade at each other!

In fact, now that we've both left university behind, and the teacher-student dynamic with it, we're probably in the territory of being able to call each other 'friends'.

A victory for shared humanity 

The Christmas Truce of 1914 was incredible because it was so human, and war isn't designed for men to act as humans.

In a snowy field, a bunch of young football-lovers could play, not dig trench lines and try to kill each other. Brits and Germans could see each other as friends, not mortal enemies.

That's why these things were so memorable in a place like the Western Front. They weren't supposed to happen in war.

War tries to reject human nature at every turn. War tries to turn us all into monsters. But on Christmas Eve, those boys in Flanders didn't let it. That was their real achievement, regardless of the football score.

A lot of them wouldn't have seen the end of the war. Some of them wouldn't even have seen the end of 1914. So spare them a thought this Christmas.

Just a little festive story from the radical archives today – my attempt at a gift for you.

Have a fantastic Christmas, and Keep Left.