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Remembered Today:

Christmas Truce


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andrew pugh

Good Afternoon All

At the moment I am reading a book called Ghosts of Old Companions by Jonathon Riley. It is a very informative book for anybody who has an interest in the fighting in Mametz Wood, in my opinion. It mentions a second Christmas Truce which took place in 1915 at Laventie. Is there any more in depth information about this event. I look forward to your comments.

Kind Regards

Andy

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Andy

 

I'd have to check my notes but from memory the unit was the Scots Guards and it resulted in Captain Iain Colquhoun being court-martialed. The location was as you suggest on the bit of the Lys Valley between Aubers and Fromelles if memory serves, Laventie being the village on the BEF side of the lines. I've just plugged 'Christmas Truce 1915 Colquhoun' into my search engine and got a series of hits including something by Jonathon Riley, and some discussion on the forum. Thanks for reminding me, I must have a read through myself.

 

Pete.

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Uncle George

There’s a pleasing description of a 1915 Christmas truce, “in the trenches close to Fromelles” and “to the dismay of the Earl of Cavan, the commander of the Guards Division” in Thomas Weber’s ‘Hitler’s First War’ (2010). 

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andrew pugh

Hi

Thank you for your replies. I personally didn't know that there was a 2nd Christmas truce, but you learn something every day don't you

Regards

Andy 

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Uncle George
1 hour ago, andrew pugh said:

Hi

Thank you for your replies. I personally didn't know that there was a 2nd Christmas truce, but you learn something every day don't you

Regards

Andy 


And “a third” in 1916. The attached from Weber, op.cit.

 

 

 

 

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
My grandfather's unit, the 2/5th LF, were in the trenches at Laventie during the summer of 1915, but by December 1915 they had moved south, and ended up duridoing a tour of 10 day stint in the the front line on the Thiepval Sector from 23 December 1915 to 2 january 1916. He writes in his diary:
 
We had received a Special Order of the Day from Sir Douglas Haig who had taken over command from Lord French on December 15th . The order was to this effect: "There was to be no fraternising between the Germans and ourselves, troops in the Front Line were to be extra vigilant, and the GOC in Chief desired that troops should be especially active with small raids and worry the Boche during the Christmas period. He relied on all troops to carry out the spirit of this order." As a result “Z” Company [i.e. his Company, of which he was temporarily in command, as the OC was on leave over Christmas] got a job of work to do. Four Trench Mortars were brought up to our Front Line to fire on the Crucifix Corner.
 
He has drawn a couple of coloured sketch pans into his diary at this point, showing the layout of their portion of the front line and the position of Crucifix Corner, and he goes on to describe two or three skirmishes in No Man's Land on the night of 24 December, then tells how the next morning they got a Christmas present from the authorities of some 8 inch guns to fire into the German-held village of Thiepval on Christmas Day, having only had 4.5 inch and 4.7 inch naval guns up to that point. Their artillery section duly fired these guns on Thiepval, and the Germans duly retaliated, and he concludes:
 
He really gave us a very rapid half hour. Can people imagine that in England this day people had been singing “Peace on Earth – goodwill to men”? There didn’t seem much of that spirit with us.
 
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andrew pugh

Hi Uncle George

Wow! I wonder if during the last truce in 1916 whether soldiers discussed their personal feelings about the war and the futility of it. Had it happened again 1n 1917 and the way the war was going concerning the length of the war, the casualties and conditions they had to endure. Could that have ended up with a situation similar to the French refusing to fight and then revolt against their commanding officers orders? I can imagine both sides were absolutely fed up with the war by then.

Regards

Andy   

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I have never been convinced that the soldiers in the trenches considered the war futile .......that is substantially a post-war construct. They considered it terrifying and boring by turns, uncomfortable almost always, but we, 100 years later, can have little insight into their thinking except from their writings. These are undoubtedly skewed towards stoicism, patriotism and lots of other isms by the fact that much of the written words were by officers.

 

However, one recent fact [as opposed to consideration] which was revealed to me recently was how well [comparatively] the wives, mothers, families of the men were provided for, in comparison with the dependants of the Germans and the French. There was of course hardship at Home but our fighting soldiers were never looking over their shoulders. A look at the Pay and Allowances provisions shows how the families were able to send food and gifts for the men. Germany, in particular, was in a shocking domestic state.

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Uncle George
1 hour ago, andrew pugh said:

Hi Uncle George

Wow! I wonder if during the last truce in 1916 whether soldiers discussed their personal feelings about the war and the futility of it. Had it happened again 1n 1917 and the way the war was going concerning the length of the war, the casualties and conditions they had to endure. Could that have ended up with a situation similar to the French refusing to fight and then revolt against their commanding officers orders? I can imagine both sides were absolutely fed up with the war by then.

Regards

Andy   


Weber makes an interesting point when he looks at Christmas 1917: “Hitler’s regiment spent a very quiet Christmas on the Oise-Aisne Canal. This time, there was no attempt at a Christmas truce. The reason for this was, first, that a waterway divided the men of RIR 16 from their opponents, and second, that Hitler’s brothers-in-arms faced French, rather than British, troops who had always been less prone to engage in Christmas truces.”

 

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Black Maria

Wilfrid Ewart covers his experiences of the 1915 Christmas truce ( just over 3 pages) in his memoir 'Scots Guard' .There is also the recently published 

'Miles Barne's Diary' which includes his part in it .

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24 minutes ago, Muerrisch said:

I have never been convinced that the soldiers in the trenches considered the war futile

I wonder if this is a reflection of a generation that was already partly disaffected before the war started, and were somewhat resigned to their fate. My understanding is that much of our urban populations signed up in the early 10's because of lack of any other opportunities, they then went through the horrors of war and came home and were largely forgotten after the way. Under those conditions I wouldn't really think I had choices in life, and life would simply become a matter of survival, and did they even have the information to consider it's merit anyway.

My own Grandfather who went through the war with the 2nd West Yorks Regiment, and which was several times reduced in numbers by about 80%, came home, as far as I can tell, with a sense of resignation to his fate. He then had a lifelong dislike of any profession that had to wear a uniform, and my father was never even allowed to join the scouts as a result. I also know that the local Communists made a lot of recruiting successes amongst soldiers who had returned from the war disaffected. 

My assessments here are based on conversations with family members who are quite philosophical, and I trust their judgement. But I realise that this is a small sample and they may have their own angles or misguided misconceptions. So please feel free to disagree with that view.

Chris.

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interesting topic, especially the question whether one troop or another would be more enclined to a truce that another. And what about the German side? Were some units (well regions... saxons vs Prussians f.ex) more inclined to a truce than other? 

And there's the form of the truce. The Christmas truce of 1914 was a clear example that spoke to the people, to the units and especially to the commanders as an example that should not be repeated. so of course over the next Christmases, the interdiction of truces was expressly forbidden. 

But what they could not control was the overall "Live and Let Live" philosophy that existed everywhere on the front... again, depending on the units, the nations and previous experience. And that's a point Tony Ashword makes in his book: the Christmas Truce of 1914 was but one examples of a non-aggressive, cooperative behaviour that developed during trench warfare on the Western Front in general. 

It can also take many forms. In this case, Colquhoun initially agreed on a truce to bury the dead. short term, with a clear aim. And THIS happened all over the front line, with knowledge of the commanders of both sides. There are also reports of "truces" agreed upon because trench warfare was turning into naval warfare due to rain and mud. Nobody was ever court martialled over this. What was maybe a mistake and led to the court martial was the fact that troops openly and freely walked around in NML.

 

truces can also take the form of deliberately shooting high and wide, shooting at routine hours ... it's all a question of "pas vu, pas pris". 

 

@Moonraker: thanks for the link !

 

M. 

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  The other side of the coin to the Christmas truce of 1914 is the determination of the powers-that-be to do the exact opposite come Christmas 1915. 

       The 1914 truce involving the London Rifle Brigade seems to have first been "blown" to the home authorities  by one of my local casualties, Corporal (later Captain MC and Bar) John Calder. He wrote back to his father, a headmaster in Leytonstone, East London fairly quickly to thank him for the gift of a Christmas hamper (he shared the cake with his section). This appeared in a local newspaper, The Leytonstone Express, in early January 1915- it was further picked up by the main Essex newspaper, "The Essex County Chronicle" that week- Calder's full letter about Christmas treats was abbreviated and the stuff about the truce came out:

    A year later, tragedy came round.  The 1st/18th Londons, London Irish, were moved into the line in atrociously muddy conditions to mount an attack on a German strongpoint at the Hohenzollern Redoubt- they were to charge and hold the crater rim after the detonation of a British mine. Alas, tunnels can be dug both ways and the British mine also touched off a German mine as well- resulting in a much bigger explosion than anticipated. A section of London Irish rushed the crater rim, as ordered, but were smothered by falling mud-"what goes up must come down". Another local for me, Private Billy Lakeman (17 years old) was one of those smothered and killed.  This action took place on Christmas Eve 1915 and the timing cannot have been accidental.  

  [The war diary of 1st London Irish fudges this matter- misleadingly implying that casualties were sustained in general fighting for the crater rim. I have also some suspicion that the true date of this incident may have been Christmas Day itself-but that may just be my paranoia]

   Thus, the Christmas truce of 1914 was not an unqualified virtue-it led to pointless deaths a year later.

 

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy

There is another example of the approach to Christmas 1915 in George Coppard's book, With a Machine Gun to Cambrai, this time from the point of view of a private.

He was at the front at Festubert, perched on a narrow strip of land surrounded by water, and writes of how after dark on Christmas Eve a 2nd Lieutenant came to remind them that by order of the Commander-in-Chief there was not to be any fraternising on Christmas Day. He continues:

 

The whole world knew that on Christmas Day, 1914, there was some fraternising with the enemy at one part of the line, and even an attempt at a game of football. Troops in the front line a year later were naturally speculating as to whether a repeat performance would develop, and, if so, where. Speaking for my companions and myself, I can categorically state that we were in no mood for any joviality with Jerry. In fact, after what we had been through since Loos, we hated his bloody guts. We were bent on his destruction at each and every opportunity for all the miseries and privations which were our lot. Our greatest wish was to be granted an enemy target worthy of our Vickers gun.

 

The 2nd Lieutenant was unfortunately killed while he was delivering his message, having his head blown off, principally, it seems, because he was a tall man, and therefore it was difficult for him to take effective cover in their inadequate trench. Coppard and his troop were only too pleased that they were able to avenge him later that night by a devastating attack on the Germans opposite, though they did have the grace to stay their hands when they were reasonably satisfied that the German stretcher bearers were at work.

 

 

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Luckily for my grandfather he was tucked up in hospital at Bethune, likely with trench fever on the 25th December 1915. His battalion was at Festubert. 

 

The battalion diary .

 

Friday 24th:- Our artillery kept up an incessant fire as a forerunner to Christmas day.

 

Saturday 25th :- No fraternising this year, although the Germans tried to make peaceful advances by showing the white flag. Our artillery consistently pounded their trenches all day and night. A certain amount of retaliation took place but not nearly as much as we put over.

 

I have not found any record of deaths (CWGC) for the 7th ESR from 22nd Dec through to new year. No fraternising but maybe "live And Let Live"

 

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   Reg- The prevalence of the "Live and Let Live" system on Christmas Day 1915  may be more important that a formal truce anywhere along the line in France- and consequently underrated.   CWGC records only 64 deaths  in the British Army in France on Christmas Day 1915 - a very light day by the grim standards of the Great War. Even then, a number would have been "Died of Wounds" from previous action or illness.   In the units listed for the casualties, only 3 stand out as having deaths that may have been incurred through actions that day alone-  9th Royal Fusiliers, 16th Royal Warwicks and 48th Heavy Battery, RGA.

 

    The existence of "Live and Let Live" comes across strongly in the CWGC statistics for the Christmas-New year period of 1915-1916:

 

Date                                  CWGC Recorded deaths in France

20 Dec 1915                                     288

21 Dec 1915                                     223

22 Dec  1915                                    147

23 Dec  1915                                    130

24 Dec  1915                                      66

25 Dec  1915                                      64

26 Dec  1915                                    111

27 Dec  1915                                    134

28 Dec  1915                                    162

29 Dec  1915                                    194

30 Dec  1915                                    210

31 Dec  1915                                    139

1  Jan    1916                                    147

 

      The figures for each Christmas Day through the war also show up an anomaly@

 

Christmas Day  1914                           91

Christmas  Day 1915                           64

Christmas  Day  1916                         130

Christmas Day   1917                         164

Christmas Day  1918                          198.

 

      Of course, the previous caveat applies-that many of the deaths on Christmas Day would have been DOW from previous action or illness.  But there is a paradox effect in the simple statistics-  that Christmas Day 1915  was the quietest Christmas Day of the war-quieter even than the famed "Christmas Truce" of 1914. Like it or not by the British Army's commanders, there was,effectively, MORE of a truce on Christmas Day 1915 than had been on the same day in 1914

Edited by voltaire60
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4 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

   Reg- The prevalence of the "Live and Let Live" system on Christmas Day 1915  may be more important that a formal truce anywhere along the line in France- and consequently underrated.   CWGC records only 64 deaths  in the British Army in France on Christmas Day 1915 - a very light day by the grim standards of the Great War. Even then, a number would have been "Died of Wounds" from previous action or illness.   In the units listed for the casualties, only 3 stand out as having deaths that may have been incurred through actions that day alone-  9th Royal Fusiliers, 16th Royal Warwicks and 48th Heavy Battery, RGA.

 

    The existence of "Live and Let Live" comes across strongly in the CWGC statistics for the Christmas-New year period of 1915-1916:

 

Date                                  CWGC Recorded deaths in France

20 Dec 1915                                     288

21 Dec 1915                                     223

22 Dec  1915                                    147

23 Dec  1915                                    130

24 Dec  1915                                      66

25 Dec  1915                                      64

26 Dec  1915                                    111

27 Dec  1915                                    134

28 Dec  1915                                    162

29 Dec  1915                                    194

30 Dec  1915                                    210

31 Dec  1915                                    139

1  Jan    1916                                    147

 

      The figures for each Christmas Day through the war also show up an anomaly@

 

Christmas Day  1914                           91

Christmas  Day 1915                           64

Christmas  Day  1916                         130

Christmas Day   1917                         164

Christmas Day  1918                          198.

 

      Of course, the previous caveat applies-that many of the deaths on Christmas Day would have been DOW from previous action or illness.  But there is a paradox effect in the simple statistics-  that Christmas Day 1915  was the quietest Christmas Day of the war-quieter even than the famed "Christmas Truce" of 1914. Like it or not by the British Army's commanders, there was,effectively, MORE of a truce on Christmas Day 1915 than had been on the same day in 1914

Thanks for the info voltaire60. Like you say an awful lot of the deaths could have been DOW's. Christmas day 1918 figures show that clearly.  Earlier wounded and influenza the causes.

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
On 18/11/2020 at 21:26, Uncle George said:

and second, that Hitler’s brothers-in-arms faced French, rather than British, troops who had always been less prone to engage in Christmas truces.”

Is it a generally recognised fact that French troops were less inclined to engage in Chrsitmas truces than the British, and, if so, do we know why?

Interestingly, writing of a time in February 1916 when his unit had just taken over the trenches in front of Blairville from the French, my grandfather writes:

Of course, the French certainly seemed to like to live in peace and quiet, rather than aggravate the Boche. We, on the contrary, played a worrying game, and always tried to gain supremacy over No Man’s Land by constant patrolling, also by shelling the approaches to the Boche Line.

Is his perception of how the French behaved in this regard widely shared? If so, was it the case that the French were more inclined to the informal "Live and let live" solution, while the British were more inclined to formal, albeit short-lived, truces?

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The attitude of the French may have had something to do with the presence of several million hostile Germans, the occupation of a goodly chunk of their country and the damaged area from the war being the size of Holland. The number of French casualties during the war, set against the pre-war population suggest the French had it anything but easy-  An essential difference is that most of the front line in the east of France and up to the Swiss frontier was relatively quiet during the war. But in the Somme -Ypres areas I can see little evidence that the French were less than fully committed to the war.

    As an aside, Christmas 1914 is remembered for "Truce" in the UK. Not so in France. My ex is French and comes from a small village just outside of Sedan, Pouru-au-Bois  - thus,occupied by the Boche in both wars.  Madam's great,great aunt died in 1986 at the age of 102.  Her husband was killed in the French army on Christmas Day 1914. She gave birth to twins a fortnight later -at the time of her death she had been a widow for nearly 72 years.

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
6 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

The attitude of the French may have had something to do with the presence of several million hostile Germans, the occupation of a goodly chunk of their country and the damaged area from the war being the size of Holland. The number of French casualties during the war, set against the pre-war population suggest the French had it anything but easy-  An essential difference is that most of the front line in the east of France and up to the Swiss frontier was relatively quiet during the war. But in the Somme -Ypres areas I can see little evidence that the French were less than fully committed to the war.

    As an aside, Christmas 1914 is remembered for "Truce" in the UK. Not so in France. My ex is French and comes from a small village just outside of Sedan, Pouru-au-Bois  - thus,occupied by the Boche in both wars.  Madam's great,great aunt died in 1986 at the age of 102.  Her husband was killed in the French army on Christmas Day 1914. She gave birth to twins a fortnight later -at the time of her death she had been a widow for nearly 72 years.

Thanks Voltaire - interesting insights, both political and personal.

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11 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

The attitude of the French may have had something to do with ... ...  the occupation of a goodly chunk of their country ...

 

Good point and, interestingly, though there was a great deal of offensive action taking place along the 9/10ths (plus) or so of the line that wasn't British held on the Xmas Day 1914, it is interesting to note that, in Alsace, most (all?) of the attacks that day were actually initiated by the Germans (who were, of course, fighting their war within 'occupied Germany'!)

 

Quote

    As an aside, Christmas 1914 is remembered for "Truce" in the UK. Not so in France.

 

The 3,119 French combat deaths of Christmas 1914 would certainly be one of the reasons for that (the truce being an absolutely miniscule (and actually pretty insignificant) event when taking an overview of the Western Front of that time

 

The French did take part in some truces that day of course, but, generally, it was a day in which aggression was actually increased in many sectors. One of the Franco-German truces that leaps to my mind rook place in the cote 110/Fricourt area on the Somme - just within a few miles (and certainly within earshot anyway) of a couple of large(ish) scale, vicious actions just to the north and south of this location. This was actually pretty typical of the French Christmas Truces that day ... just several isolated, small scale incidents often neighbouring, or in close proximity to,  areas of intensive action

 

 

Edited by OM4619
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andrew pugh

Good Evening to you all

Thank you for your replies and the information given.

Kind Regards

Andy

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