Wednesday, 23 December 2015

'Christmas Day in the trenches and not one shot was fired'

Illustration depicting the Christmas Truce of 1914
What does Christmas mean today? Presents, festive trees, tinsel, turkey ... and, since the WW1 Centenary began last year, a few lines describing the Christmas Truce of 1914. It's such a heartwarming story that quotes from the diaries of soldiers who were there are fast becoming one of the traditions of Christmas. And who am I to argue? In my book Weymouth, Dorchester  & Portland in the Great War  I used the wonderful diary of Portland soldier George Beck to describe the scenes he witnessed in on the Western Front in December 1914. Below is an extract - illustrated by an admitedly rather romanticised illustration of the truce! - and with it, may I wish all readers of my blog a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Diary of RSM George Beck, December 1914
24th December – Quiet day. Relieved 2nd R. Dub Fus. [Royal Dublin Fusiliers] in the trenches. in the evening. Germans shout over to us and ask us to play them at football, and also not to fire and they would do likewise. At 2am (25th) a German Band went along their trenches playing ‘Home Sweet Home’ and 'God Save the King' which sounded grand and made everyone think of home. During the night several of our fellows went over No Man’s Land to German lines and was [sic] given a drink and cigars.

25th December –TRENCHES – St Yves. Christmas Day. Not one shot was fired. English and German soldiers intermingled and exchanged souvenirs. Germans very eager to exchange almost anything for our ‘bully beef’ and jam. Majority of them knew French fluently. A few men of the Regiment  assisted in burying the dead of the Somerset Light Infantry, who were killed on 19.12.14. Fine frosty day. Very cold.
26th December –TRENCHES – St Yves. Unofficial truce kept up and our fellows intermingled still with the Germans. No rifle shots fired but our artillery fired a few rounds on the German 3rd and 4th lines and Germans retaliated with few rounds on D Coy’s trenches. 2 wounded. 
27th December –TRENCHES – St Yves. No sniping. A few whizz bangs [slang for a type of shell] on D Coy  trenches. 1 wounded.
The Christmas Truce on the Western Front fizzled out as the New Year of 1915 approached and, although small pockets of peace were reported the following year, it would never be repeated in the same way. Regimental Sergeant Major Beck, who served with the 1st Warwickshire Regiment, survived the war and returned to Portland where he settled down with his wife and worked as an inspector of the National Omnibus Company.

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