Read the words of WW1 Yorkshire soldiers on the famous 1914 Christmas truce

The Christmas Truce of 1914 remains a moment of enduring fascination more than a century after the day the First World War guns fell silent.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 10:38 am
Andy Edwards' truce statue All Together Now at the Menin Gate British war memorial in Ypres, Belgium
Andy Edwards' truce statue All Together Now at the Menin Gate British war memorial in Ypres, Belgium

My new book looks at what really happened in the words of the soldiers who took part.

In December 1914 thousands of Yorkshire soldiers were preparing for the first Christmas of the First World War away from their loved ones.

For some of the White Rose battalions it was business as usual on December 25 as fighting continued on the Western Front despite the series of spontaneous ceasefires which broke out along two-thirds of the frontline.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Members of the London Rifle Brigade fraternise with German soldiers on Christmas Day 1914. Photo: IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums

Others were able to enjoy the festive season out of the trenches as they rested up in billets away from the battlefield.

Despite officially being at rest, some of the men of the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment did find themselves taking part in the remarkable Christmas truce which would become part of wartime history.

Pte Nathan Manton wrote home to describe his experiences at La Boutillerie, in northern France.

He recalled: “You would read of the truce at Christmas. I daresay many people at home doubted it, but it was quite true.

Gordon Highlanders posing for the camera with German soldiers in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914

"The fellows we talked to were under the impression that they had taken Calais weeks before.

“They also told us they would give themselves up if they dare. Two or three had lived in England before the war, and said they wished they were back.

"One of them gave a postcard to a lad of ours to post for him. It was addressed to Liverpool.

“It seemed rather peculiar to be shaking hands one day and the next day trying to blow one another’s brains out.

"It will be a grand thing for those who live to see the day when peace is proclaimed.”

Pte Manton’s letter was one of hundreds published in newspapers back home, revealing the astonishing laying down of arms between enemies over the festive season.

Many recounted tales of meeting enemy soldiers who had lived in England during those remarkable few days of peace.

For the soldiers receiving copies of local papers from loved ones was a vital lifeline for keeping in touch with the news back home.

One soldier recalled encountering a German who was just as keen to catch up with events back in Yorkshire.

He wrote: “Thanks very much for the football news. It will come in very handy here as we have many an argument about it.

“In fact, a few days ago, one of the Germans in the trenches opposite to us shouted across asking how Wednesday had gone on. I’ll bet he came from Sheffield.

“We had a regular little concert on Christmas Eve. The Germans sang a few songs and then our chaps had to sing a few too.

"The people at home were very generous to us at Christmas.

“I see by some of the papers that some people in England think we ought not to have any rum.

"Well, I should say let them stand up to the hips in water all night, very nearly ‘starved’ and I think they would appreciate it then.”

The York and Lancaster Regiment drew men from across Yorkshire and the 2nd Battalion was among those which fraternised with the enemy.

Pte Edgar Atkinson wrote: “We had a fine time with the Germans. Christmas Eve this, they started singing Christmas carols and the tune of our National Anthem.

"We sang after and began speaking to them. Only one or two could speak English.

“One would think the war had finished, because we were sat on top of the trench, and they were nearly halfway over to us.

"Of course, we had shouted and made the agreement that no-one should shoot on either side, so away we went on talking.

“They said we might as well give ourselves up, as in a day or two we should lose our trenches.

“Nothing could stop them, as they had invaded England, bombarded London, taken Calais and Paris and routed the Russian army. But a paper was handed to them which I think soon altered their tune.

"They wished us ‘A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year’.”

*Christmas Truce by the Men Who Took Part by Mike Hill is published by Fonthill Media in hardback, priced £25.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.