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Christmas truce in the trenches 1914

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Exactly 100 years ago this evening, 18 year old Private Charles Brazier of Bishop’s Stortford took part in the famous Christmas truce in the trenches. Charles was one of many soldiers who stepped over the top into no-mans land, not to fight, but to share Christams greetings with the enemy, to sing carols and exchange gifts.

Early in December commanders noted that Chritsmas might be a time when the men would want to fraternise:

“It is during this period that the greatest danger to the morale of troops exists…friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited” (5th December 1914: II Corps HQ [General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien] – Instruction to commanders of all Divisions)

Orders didn’t stop the inpromtu Christmas celebrations.

Charles described his Chritsmas Truce in Flanders, in a letter home:

‘You will, no doubt, be surprised to hear that we spent our Christmas in the trenches after all, and that Christmas Day was a very happy one. On Christmas Eve the Germans entrenched opposite us began calling out to us, ‘Cigarettes,’ ‘Pudding,’ ‘a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Englishmen’s good,’; so two of our fellows climbed over the parapet of the trench and went towards the German trenches. Halfway they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine, and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back I went out with some more of our fellows, and we were met by about thirty Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows. They shook hands with us, gave us cigars, and wished us a Happy Christmas. I got one of them to write his name and address on a postcard as a souvenir. All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us, and one played ‘God Save the King’ on a mouth-organ. On Christmas Day we all got out of the trenches and walked about with the Germans, who, when asked if they were fed up with the War, said, ‘Yes; rather.’ They all believe that London has been captured, and that German sentries are outside Buckingham Palace. We gave them some of our newspapers to convince them. Some of them could speak English fairly well. Between the trenches there were a lot of dead Germans, whom we helped to bury. In one place, where the trenches are only twenty-five yards apart, we could see dead Germans half buried, their legs and gloved hands sticking out of the ground. The trenches in this position are so close that it is called ‘The Death Trap’, as hundreds have been killed there. A hundred yards or so in the rear of our trenches there were houses that had been shelled. These we explored with some of the Regulars, and we found bicycles, top hats, straw hats, umbrellas, etc. We dressed ourselves up in these and went over to the Germans. It seemed so comical to see fellows walking about in top hats and with umbrellas up. Some rode the bicycles backwards. We had some fine sport, and made the Germans laugh. No firing took place on Christmas night, and at four the next morning we were relieved by the Regulars. I managed to get hold of a German ammunition pouch and bayonet, but the latter I have had to throw away, as it was so awkward to carry. I intend bringing the pouch home with me – when I come home.’’

Written by Private Charles Brazier, Queen’s Westminster Rifles (Territorials). Brazier was the son of local business man R Brazier (plumber and Sanitation) of Market Street. He survived the war, being woundedat least once, in 1917. His older brother died at the Somme in November 1916.

Charles Braizer’s WW1 medals: Bishop’s Stortford Museum Collection

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