We can reflect on the WWI Christmas truce of 1914

By MPP Toby Barrett

As we near the 100th anniversary of the first Christmas of World War I, there is a story of humanity that was found in the trenches.

In one of the most extraordinary episodes of modern warfare – the Christmas Truce of 1914 – opposing soldiers saw their enemies not as monsters and villains, but – if only briefly – as fellow human beings, with families.

A letter from British General Walter Congreve VC to his wife outlined what he saw on Christmas Day 1914. “This a.m. a German shouted out that they wanted a day’s truce & would one come out if he did; so very cautiously one of our men lifted himself above the parapet & saw a German doing the same. Both got out then more & finally all day long in that particular place they have been walking about together all day giving each other cigars & singing songs. Officers as well as men were out & the German Colonel himself was talking to one of our Captains.”

Across the front, similar unofficial cease fires took place. It started with singing of Christmas carols on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, events such as what Congreve reported took place between the British and Germans. Although references indicate the truce was between the British and Germans, Canadians were part of the British forces. There are tales of gifts of cigarettes, cigars and plum pudding being exchanged and even a soccer game in No-Man’s Land.

Estimates are as many as 100,000 soldiers took part in 1914’s Christmas truce. The unique thing was the movement spread along the trenches, with no co-ordination from the upper ranks and the extent of the fraternization varied between the opposing forces along the front.

As reported home by a WW I British soldier, “Just you think that while you were eating your turkey . . . I was out talking and shaking hands with the very men I had been trying to kill a few hours before!”

As the dawn of Dec. 26 brightened in the sky, hostilities resumed. When the higher ranks learned what had happened, orders were given that no such cease fire was to occur again.

At home, in Haldimand and Norfolk Counties, the effects of the war were felt in many ways – certainly less joy in homes already grieving the loss of a loved one, and concern in hundreds of homes where mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters worried about the welfare of their loved one overseas. As the war progressed, rationing took place.

One hundred years ago, soldiers put down their Lee Enfield rifles and put tremendous trust in the good of humanity as they climbed out of their entrenched positions. If our forefathers had the courage to put this kind of trust in the good of humanity, we owe it to them to continue to do the same.

This Christmas let’s pause and be thankful for the sacrifices made by previous generations to ensure freedom continues to reign.

On behalf of my family and my hard-working staff, we wish everyone a Merry Christmas, happy holidays and prosperity in the coming year. May you enjoy the warmth of the season and the gathering of family and friends as we celebrate the birth of Christ.