Peter Hoskin

From the archives: The Christmas truce

From the archives: The Christmas truce
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Christmas is but a day away, and with it a chance to remember when British and German troops clambered out of the trenches to declare impromptu ceasefires in December 1914. CoffeeHousers are no doubt familiar with the specifics: how the Germans started by singing carols, and finished off (according to some letters from the time) by beating our soldiers 3-2 in a game of football. But I thought you still might care to see how The Spectator wrote it up a week later. So here is the brief report that appeared in the 'News of the Week' section of our 2 January issue, 1915:

‘The news from the western theatre of the war has during the week been chiefly concerned with accounts of Christmas in the trenches, and with the strange and touching scenes of fraternization which took place between the combatants. Pedants may object to these expressions of goodwill and friendliness in the circumstances, but for ourselves we see not merely no harm but good in them. Men fight just as sternly and as bravely though they are willing to shake the foe by the hand. This view of how to wage war is quite compatible with the remembrance of the terrible crimes against humanity and the chivalries and decencies of combat committed in Belgium and France by the German Army. For the men responsible for these hideous and calculated misdeeds were not the men in the trenches, but the combatant bureaucrats who gave orders such as those for the military execution of Louvain and the shooting of hostages, women, children, and civilian prisoners. We can well understand the objection to shaking members of the German General Staff by the hand, but there is no objection to an honest handshake with the vast majority of the German privates and German officers in the trenches. They are only doing their duty in fighting us, and a brave man's hand will not be soiled but honoured by saluting a foe whose courage he has proved so well.’