World War I veteran recalls Christmas Day Truce of 1914

A never before heard audio recording of an interview with a World War I veteran who experienced the Christmas Day Truce in 1914 has been recovered.

The recording took place in 1981, when a military historian sat down to interview Private Stan Brown. Private Brown served with both the 1st Leicester and 1st South Staffordshire Regiments during World War I.

Stan recalls how on Christmas Eve 1914 it didn’t just happen that the forces stopped fighting all at once. He remembers how in the evening, the sentry on duty heard a German singing only about 50 metres away. Stan’s regiment put down their arms because they couldn’t work out what all the singing was about.

Stan says that all along the German troops wire defences, they could see small pieces of paper, rags and lots of paraphernalia with Christmas greetings written on them. He remembers that some were written in German, but others in English since many of the German troops spoke English.

When the Germans saw the British investigating their home-made Christmas decorations, they signalled to a bottle of wine they had begun to drink. The British soldiers leapt at the chance to have a drink on Christmas Eve, so they took a bottle and returned to their respective trenches, and the fighting went quiet.

Stan couldn’t remember if they’d eaten that day, but he and his regiment had a drink, and it was peaceful. Eventually one of the German soldiers raised a card with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it and a message saying to come out of the trenches, the Mail Online reports.

Stan says they were all doubtful about whether they should meet with the Germans, but then a couple more German soldiers appeared over the top of their trenches. The British soldiers could see they didn’t have any guns or weapons, so they decided to go and meet them. They all began to sing Christmas carols and Stan’s Battalion Commander even led the singing!

Stan recalls how it wasn’t just one big group, the gathering of troops from both sides stretched about 1km along the trenches with the Germans giving out wine and cigars. Stan assumes that the British soldiers thought the Germans had it better than they did, since they could only muster a tin of jam as a gift in exchange.

The Christmas Day Truce of 1914 was a one-off unofficial occasion that stretched along the trenches of Flanders Fields in Belgium. The truce was spontaneous with the British and German soldiers on the ground making the decision not to fight. An iconic image of the truce is a photograph of British and German soldiers playing football in no-man’s land. The truce was never repeated since officers had given commands ahead of Christmas 1915 not to interact with the enemy. Further the conflict had become more complex, fierce and intense.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE