The True Story of the Christmas Truce: British and German Eyewitness Accounts from World War I
Historian Anthony Richards, on his new book, The True Story of the Christmas Truce: British and German Eyewitness Accounts from World War I, that looks at the famous truce from the vantage point of first-person accounts and the hope it brought to all sides during the war.
“One of them shouted ‘A Merry Christmas English. We’re not shooting tonight.’ …[then] they stuck up a light. Not to be outdone, so did we. Then up went another. So, we shoved up another. Soon the lines looked like an illuminated fete.” Rifleman Leslie Walkington
On Christmas Eve 1914, a group of German soldiers laid down their arms, lit lanterns and started to sing Christmas carols. The British troops in nearby trenches responded by singing songs of their own. The next day, men from both sides met in No Man’s Land. They shook hands, took photos and exchanged food and souvenirs. Some even played improvised football games, kicking around empty bully-beef cans and using helmets for goalposts. Both sides also saw the lull in fighting as a chance to bury the bodies of their comrades.
In some parts of the front, the truce lasted a few hours. In others, it continued to the New Year. But everywhere, sooner or later, the fighting resumed. Today, the Christmas Truce is seen as a poignant symbol of hope in a war that many people regard as unnecessary and futile. But what was the real story of those remarkable few days?
In this fascinating new book, historian Anthony Richards has brought together hundreds of first-hand reminiscences from those who were there—including previously unpublished German accounts—to cast fresh light on this extraordinary episode.
You can browse the archived interviews at the Imperial War Museum here: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/sound
Peter Jackson’s film is called “They Shall Not Grow Old” and you can learn more about it here: https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/they-shall-not-grow-old
More about the WWI Trench Experience at the American Heritage Museum here: https://www.americanheritagemuseum.org/exhibits/world-war-i-trench-experience/
[Recorded on December 23, 2021.]