The first signs that something strange was happening occurred on Christmas Eve.
At 8:30 p.m. an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles reported to headquarters:
“Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.“
Even at the distance of a century, no war seems more terrible than World War I.
In the four years between 1914 and 1918, it killed or wounded more than 25 million people–peculiarly horribly, and (in popular opinion, at least) for less apparent purpose than did any other war before or since.
Yet there were still odd moments of joy and hope in the trenches of Flanders and France, and one of the most remarkable came during the first Christmas of the war, a few brief hours during which men from both sides on the Western Front laid down their arms, emerged from their trenches, and shared food, carols, games and comradeship.
Their truce–the famous Christmas Truce–was unofficial and illicit.
Many officers disapproved, and headquarters on both sides took strong steps to ensure that it could never happen again.
While it lasted, though, the truce was magical, leading even the sober Wall Street Journal to observe:
“What appears from the winter fog and misery is a Christmas story, a fine Christmas story that is, in truth, the most faded and tattered of adjectives: inspiring.”