During the beginning of World War I, German attacks through Belgium were largely repelled by British and French forces at the Battle of the Marne. Fighting between the troops turned into a stalemate – neither was willing to give ground and both sides began fortifying their positions by building trenches. In the months leading up to December 1914, several peace initiatives between the fighting groups were attempted. The “Open Christmas Letter” was penned by a group of British suffragettes and was a public message for peace. In the beginning of December, Pope Benedict XV requested an official truce between the sparring governments although his request was rebuffed by the participants.
Friendly Warfare Relations
The western front also experienced fraternization, which were semi regular and peaceful interactions between opposing forces. These instances ranged from refrain of overtly aggressive behavior all the way to regular conversation and visits between opposing trenches. The proximity of these trenches made it accessible for soldiers to verbally communicate with the opposing side and is thought to be the most common method of arranging informal truces during WWI.
Approximately 100,000 German and British troops were involved in unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front. On Christmas eve, German troops decorated the areas around their trenches, continuing their celebration by singing Christmas carols. Soonafter, British troops began singing carols of their own, followed by both sides exchanging goods such as tobacco and alcohol in the middle of the battling trenches at no man’s land. In many of the sectors, celebrations lasted through Christmas evening all the way until New Years 1915.
Captain Bruce Bairnsfather from the British forced penned the following about the unusual Christmas eve situation:
I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…. I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons…. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange…. The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck