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Daily Archives: 25 December, '14

25 December 1914 – Christmas Truce

Ted and the Garhwalis were present at the Christmas Truce though they didn’t play football. Ted wrote about it to his mother on December 31st and about it to Jane on January 1st. You can hear Matthew Ward of @HistoryNeedsYou read the letter of December 31st below:


Ted’s commanding officer Col Drake-Brockman found the Truce unmilitary and uncanny, but a good opportunity to search for the bodies of men who’d been killed some five weeks before. Here are his memories of the Christmas Truce from his book “With the Royal Garhwal Rifles in the Great War 1914-1917”.

I had just … got back to my dugout when Captain Berryman came running up with the news that “the Germans were out of their trenches.” “The devil they are!” I replied, and went up with him. Sure enough I found a number sitting on the parapet of No. 2 Company’s trench, and also out in front of No. 1 Company. They were trying to converse with our men and giving them cigarettes, biscuits and boxes of cigars. As I could speak German I conversed with them. They all belonged to the 16th Regiment, and it is a strange coincidence that at the battle of Nueve Chapelle later in March, 1915, among the prisoners that the Battalion took there were these identical men who came out on Christmas Day at this informal “armistice”. They seemed very jolly, as if they had had a good feed with plenty to drink. In fact they told me that they had had a good dinner. One of them said to me that there must be “Friede auf der Erde” on this day being Christmas Day. They seemed convinced that they were winning, and one of them said, with a wave of his hand, that the Russians were quite out of it. He gave me a bundle of newspapers to corroborate his statement.

This “armistice” was of short duration. Strictly speaking it should not have taken place without permission. Both our and the German headquarters (we saw from captured documents later) were very angry about it when it became known, and rightly so. At 3.45 p.m. a whistle sounded from their trench, and they all, driven by their neat, dapper N.C.O.s, or “unter oficiers,” scuttled back to their trench. The men were not so neatly turned out as the N.C.O.s, naturally, as they have harder and more fatigue work to do. One man, I noticed, had on a pair of civilian corduroys over his uniform ones.

The truce was well kept for all that night. Not a shot was fired. The silence, so different to the usual crack of rifles and spluttering of machine guns, was almost uncanny.

The way they came out was amusing. First, the evening before, they put out small Christmas trees with lighted candles on them on the top of their trench. Our men were astonished, as it looked, they said, like their own “Dewali” festival in India. During the morning singing and shouting were heard. After a time heads appeared, and finally thier whole bodies – and out they came! It shows what confidence they had in our men. We could not have treated them in like manner. We took the opportunity to search for poor Taylor’s and Robertson-Glasgow’s bodies. They were killed on the 18th November. Only the latter’s body was found. Taylor and the Garhwali officer must have got right into the the German trench and been killed there. Robertson-Glasgow’s body was found close to the parapet. He was buried in the military cemetery between Epinette and Le Touret on the Rue de Bois.

It was a strange feeling being able to wander up above ground after being so long below the surface. A couple of dead Germans were close to the side road. They looked so quiet and lifelike in the attitude they were lying in, so opportunity was taken to have a look at them. They were mere skeletons inside their uniform! One had no head. Both must have been killed by a shell.

 
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Posted by on 25 December, '14 in About

 

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