The Christmas Truce


British and German troops meeting in no mans's land during the unofficial truce.
By Robson Harold B (IWM Collections) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During the First World War, ordinary soldiers stopped fighting and reached out to each other on Christmas Day. Joshua Leo and Marina Santee tell the story.

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Transcript


Voice 1

Thank you for joining us for today’s spotlight program. I’m Marina Santee.

Voice 2

And I’m Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

In December 1914, World War I had just started. In France, British soldiers fought against German soldiers. It was a cold and dangerous time.

Voice 2

The fighting in World War One was trench warfare. Men from both sides sat in long holes in the ground - trenches. They defended their territory by shooting and fighting from these holes. They would gain and lose a little bit of ground at a time. These trenches were wet and cold. There was no good place to store waste. Sometimes, the soldiers could not even bury the dead bodies. So the bodies became part of the trenches too. And there were many rats living in this waste. But in this horrible time of war, something special happened. Today’s Spotlight is on the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Voice 1

When World War One started, Germany invaded France. Armies marched into the country. But French and British soldiers stopped them. Both armies dug deep trenches to settle in. Between these trenches was an area called “no man’s land.” No man’s land was an area of land covered in sharp barbed wire fences. This was a dangerous area.

Voice 2

For months, the armies sat in the trenches. They shot at each other across no man’s land. And as autumn changed into winter, conditions in the trenches got worse. Winter rains flooded the trenches. The dirt was wet and sticky. It was difficult to move in the trenches. The soldiers had to be careful. They could not raise their heads too high out of the trench. They risked getting shot.

Voice 1

As time went on, the soldiers on both sides began to think about the men they were fighting. These men were experiencing the same horrible conditions. The soldiers also wanted to see the enemy close up. They wanted to know if the enemy was truly as bad as the newspapers and government officials said.

Voice 2

In an area of trenches, British soldiers would sometimes shout to German soldiers across no man’s land. The Germans would also shout. And sometimes all the soldiers would agree to stop fighting for a short period of time. This let both sides to get water and other supplies without being killed. But these peace times only lasted for a short time.

Voice 1

Sometimes the soldiers from each side traded things with each other - things like smoking tobacco. Or they sang songs for each other from the trenches. But usually, the commanding officers did not approve of this behaviour. They ordered the soldiers to stop being friendly to the enemy.

Voice 2

The war was just beginning, but many people already wanted fighting to stop. On December seven, the Catholic Pope asked for a truce, a time of peace, around Christmas. This was a shared holiday - all of the countries that were fighting celebrated it. And for many people, Christmas is a holiday that celebrates hope and peace. The German army agreed to the truce, but no other armies did.

Voice 1

On Christmas Eve, British soldiers reported seeing Christmas trees and lights on top of the German trenches. They heard singing and celebration coming from the enemy.

Voice 2

In one area, the German and British soldiers took turns singing Christmas songs. The Germans sang a song in German, and then the British sang a song in English. When the British started singing one song in English, the Germans joined them with the Latin version of the song.

In another area, men from each army met between the trenches in no man’s land. One British soldier wrote of his experience:

Voice 3

“We shook hands, we wished each other 'Merry Christmas'. Soon we were talking as if we had known each other for years. Soon, most of our company joined us. Small groups of Germans and British stretched out over the land. Out of the darkness we could hear laughter. Where the men did not share language, they used signs and everyone got along nicely. Here we were laughing and talking to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.”

Voice 1

Another British soldier also wrote a letter to his family. He described the events as “the most memorable Christmas I have ever spent”.

Voice 2

Some of the soldiers even played games of football with each other in no man’s land. Kurt Sehmisch, a German soldier, wrote about it:

Voice 4

“The English brought a foot ball from the trenches. Soon an exciting game started. How wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. So Christmas, the celebration of love, managed to bring enemies together as friends for a time.”

Voice 1

Some parts of the army decided to declare a truce for only Christmas day. This was a time of no fighting. Other groups declared a truce until New Years Day. Both sides used this time to bury dead soldiers. Sometimes bodies would sit in no man’s land for months. In a few areas, German and British soldiers held funeral services together.

Voice 2

At the end of the day, things began to change. The games and happiness slowed and the soldiers went back to their trenches. A British officer tells of how the war began again after the truce:

Voice 5

“I fired three shots into the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it, and I climbed on the edge of the trench. The Germans put up a sheet with “thank you” on it and the German officer appeared. We both bowed, saluted, and got down into the trenches. And he fired two shots into the air and the War was on again.”

Voice 1

World War I continued for almost four more years after that Christmas. But the soldiers remembered the events of the Christmas truce for the rest of their lives. They had put down their guns to have a time of peace and celebration.

Voice 2

The Christmas truce has touched many people’s lives even today. Today, wars are happening all over the world. This story gives us a look into what we all desire - peace. We desire respect and friendship instead of argument and fighting. It gives us hope that somewhere in the middle of all the trouble in the world, deep down, people want peace. And for the soldiers in 1914, the best gift they could have received for Christmas was the gift of peace.

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Joshua Leo. The voices you heard were from the United States. Computer users can hear our programs, read our scripts, and see our word list on our website at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called “The Christmas Truce”.

Voice 2

If you have a comment or question about this program, you can e-mail us. Our e-mail address is radio@radioenglish.net. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!

Question:

Do you think the Christmas truce made a difference? Do you think a holiday truce could change any current conflict?

Comments


humble71's avatar
humble71
said on December 26, 2011

It’s incredible and little unbelievable about a truce in the middle of the war. The power of Christmas could stop a war for one day , and it’s crazy that after this peace time they continue playing at the war . Sincerely God changes lifes and the survivors of this war can testify that God exists and human beings respect our savior in Christmas ...

Happy Christmas Spotlight team… thank you for sharing so valuable program.

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georgino
said on December 29, 2011

I can’t believe that but its a lesson for the mankind that the problems could be resolved thinking in god doing the truce. The war is not convenience for anyone
God came to the world to bring us the hope and love
So join us for the peace
blessing   Merry christmas and happy new year!!!!

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Severino Ramos da Silva
said on December 21, 2015

Dear Marina Santee and Joshua Leo:

Yes, I do. Because for a short period of time they thought in Peace and put down their guns. But, I do not think a Holiday truce could change any current conflict due to the corruption and discord between people.  The power on everything comes first that some people fight to get it . For the reason, some people lost the respect about each other. Thank you very much and Merry Christmas.

All the best,
Severino Ramos - from Brasil

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fritzkobus
said on December 22, 2015

Yes, I do. Christmas truce was a short period of time to reflect about we are all brothers and that the son of God , Jesus came to the world to bring us light and salvation for our soul. I like so much this topic because is strange , unbelievable event in the middle of a huge war at that time. Friendship, fellowship, respect, love to each other is possible. I think that a holiday truce could change a conflict if all humankind remember the horror of war in the last century and the destruction and death that continues right now with rebel groups in the middle east , Africa and around the world. Only the son of God with all his power and mercy could stop the anger , ambition and iniquity when he come again to the earth to give us justice , peace and love to everybody.  Merry Christmas Spotlight family , thanks for this program ,  the best gift for those soldiers in very bad living conditions inside trenches was the love and peace, shake hands , receive a smile,  play foot ball , to know each other like human brothers .Christmas is not a commercial time to give material gifts only.

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Truongbinh1996
said on December 21, 2016

As you all know, Anyone of us do not want war to happen ,because the consequences it causes is too big and worst. Soldiers do not want to fight and kill people but they want peace, so they have to do so , however in combat they always want to have moments of happiness with teammates or the enemy.
Thank Spotlight program for sharing!

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Dela
said on December 22, 2016

At Christmas, we try to keep the old traditions that means having a decorated tree with lighted candles, giving presents each other and making a lot of traditional festive dishes too. We can hear ringing bells from the churches, children are singing the Christmas carols.
This holiday represents the important exceptional event in life of Christians but we mustn’t forget that Christmas should become the holy enouncement of love, peace, reconciliation and primarily the strong hope for all people around the world!
Thanks all Spotlight team for telling us so amazing stories!
Best wishes to you and Merry Christmas!