December 27th 1914
Hope you are all well back home, I miss you all so much. Who’d have thought this time last year that I’d be spending this Christmas on the front line?
We all got a Christmas gift from Princess Mary – a tin containing a card, cigarettes, picture and a pencil. I got your card and package, those socks were just what I needed! Thanks, Mam.
The weather has been wet for most of December but the temperature dropped on Christmas Eve and there was a heavy frost, which at least made it feel a bit more like Christmas. I longed to be sitting in front of the fire, teasing our Gladys and the boys. How is Glad? I worry about her. Tell her she must be brave like her big brother.
Conditions are hard but our spirits are up. The trenches are waterlogged and one solider, Albert, keeps singing about being in the Navy. Funny lad, he should be on the stage! Humour is never far away and thank God for that!
I wanted to tell you of the strangest thing that happened on Christmas Eve…
We heard the Germans singing carols. Word came from their lines that, if we didn’t fire on Christmas Day, neither would they.
We were wary at first but then we saw them climbing out of their trench, hands in the air – obviously unarmed.
They shouted out to us, “Happy Christmas English soldiers!” A few of us ventured out of our trench and met them half way. A German shook my hand. He told me his name was Karl. He didn’t look much older than me. He showed me a picture of his wife and son. We exchanged gifts. I gave him some cigarettes, he gave me some cake and we both swapped buttons off our coats.
Everybody was so friendly, it was surreal.
During those two days, not a shot was fired. If I hadn’t have seen it happen with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it, Mam. I keep looking at the button to check that it really did happen.
It made me realise that they are just following orders the same as us and they have families too.
Hopefully this war will soon be over and, God willing, we will return home safe and sound.
I must close now but take heart that a miracle really did happen this Christmas.
All my love,
P.S Could you send some lice powder next time?
The letter is fictional but it’s inspired by a true event.
The Christmas Truce took place in the Christmas of 1914. Though there was no official truce, roughly 100,000 British and German troops took part in unofficial cessation of fighting. This would prove to be the last significant act of chivalry between the two sides. Future attempts at cease fires were met with threats of disciplinary action. At this point in the war, censorship was still in its infancy so many letters sent home reported this as having happened.
Letters played a huge part in the war. The most effective weapon wasn’t a rifle, it was morale. Receiving letters was one of the few comforts a soldier had and writing them helped relieve the boredom. The given reason for censorship was to prevent the enemy from finding out secret information but it was also to stop bad news from reaching home. Some letters slipped through censor net and for the sake of this post, this is the case for this letter.
Support was vital from the home front. The majority of soldiers kept their letters as upbeat as possible, shielding their loved ones from what life was really like.
Given the appalling conditions which these men were living in and the horrors that they faced each day, it’s not surprising that the Christmas Truce should have had such a profound effect on those who witnessed it.
Seemingly neither side wanted to be the first to break the goodwill so those men were replaced with others who hadn’t taken part and the war (which people initially thought to to be over by Christmas) carried on for four more years with the loss of about 10 million military personnel and a total of around 37 million casualties.
The legacy of the truce is the message of hope that in our darkest hour, humanity can still be found.
But, however, looking back on it all, I wouldn’t have
missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything~ Bruce
Brairnsfather, an English solider.