The Christmas Truce 1914

Christmas Eve 1914 when the war stopped and the two sides became friends for a few hours .....

William Heath was one of the five Bishop Monkton soldiers killed in the war in 1917. Years earlier he was involved in one of the most poignant episodes in the war when a Truce was observed for a few hours on Christmas Eve in 1914.  Both sides laid down their weapons, came out of their trenches and were 'friends' for just a few hours before the battle resumed.  The now famous ‘Christmas Truce’ was later recalled by one of William Heath’s comrades, Sergeant Arthur Self. This is what he wrote:

“Just after breakfast in the front line a white flag appeared in the German trench. A bit later we responded and all firing ceased. A German officer left his trench and met one of ours in the centre of no man’s land. Speaking English he offered an armistice so that an unarmed party (stretcher bearers) could bury our dead lying behind the German front line. 

A Sergeant and six men wearing red cross armlets crossed over and carried out this task, which took about two hours. During this period I was able to bury the Lance Sergeant in a grave about four yards behind our front line. This was in full view of the German front line – no mourners, no chaplain, just myself – in a shallow grave and a small wooden cross. 

The task finished, I jumped down into the trench thankful that Fritz had kept faith to the truce. Later on, the burial party returned to our lines. There were no planes overhead, no observation balloons, no bombs, no rifle fire, therefore no snipers, just an occasional lark overhead. 

Just watching … and watching, it was so quiet, it was uncanny, two forces facing each other in the muddy trenches, sentries posted at each periscope, which were put up without being shot at. The truce ended at 10pm with a burst from a Maxim.”

This story at just the right time of the year concludes our coverage of the First World War and the part Bishop Monkton men played in it. We are grateful to David Whincup for his research which has brought together many hitherto little known details of that war.