Topic: The Field of Battle
Frank and Maurice Wray, The London Rifle Brigade, "Christmas, 1914," Army Quarterly and Defence Journal, Vol. XCVII, October 1968 and January 1969
And so on Christmas Eve we settled down to our normal watch-keeping without relaxation and without any idea of what the immediate future was to bring. It soon became clear, however, by the sounds of activity coming from the opposite trenches that the Germans were celebrating Christmas Eve in their customary manner. They had brought up a band into their front line trenches, and, as we listened to hymns and tunes common to both nations, quite understandably a wave of nostalgia passed over us.
When it became quite dark the light from an electric pocket-lamp appeared on the German parapet. Normally this would have drawn a hail of bullets, but soon these lights were outlining the trenches as far as the eye could see and no sound of hostile activity could be heard. When the lights were dowsed we waited in the stillness of a beautiful night (nevertheless with the usual sentries posted and fully alert) for the dawn of the most remarkable Christmas Day that any of us was ever likely to see. As dawn was breaking a voice from the German trenches was heard, 'We good, we no shoot," and so was born an unofficial armistice.
After some initial caution the troops from both sides rose from their holes in the ground to stretch their legs and then to fraternize in "No Man's Land" between the trenches—a happy state of affairs which continued for about ten days. It became clear that the same extraordinary situation extended towards Armentieres on our right and Hill 60 on our left, as a battalion of the 10th Division on our left arranged a football match against a German team—one of their number having found in the opposing unit a fellow member of his local Liverpool football club who was also his hairdresser! Many souvenirs were exchanged, ranging from buttons and badges, a piece of cloth cut from a Saxon's overcoat (still in our possession), some cigars which had been received from the Kaiser (not very popular apparently, either cigars or donor!).
The prize souvenir, however, was a German Regular's dress helmet, the celebrated "Pickelhaube." Our currency in this piece of bargaining was bully beef and Tickler's plum and apple, so called, jam. They asked for marmalade, but we had not seen any ourselves since we left England. This helmet achieved fame as, on the following day, a voice called out, "Want to speak to officer," and being met in "No Man's Land" continued, "Yesterday I give my hat for the bullybif. I have grand inspection tomorrow. You lend me and I bring it back after." The loan was made and the pact kept, sealed with some extra bully! The spike from this helmet we still have.
This Elysian situation was not to last, and, incidentally, it was said to have caused some misgivings in the High Command, possibly owing to the disproportionate number of Germans emerging from the ground on Christmas morning. The end came when the word came over, "Prussians coming in here tomorrow," and so it was and we returned to the comparative safety of our holes in the ground.