The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce, as reported by WW1 newspapers

Posted on December 19th, 2014 by The British Newspaper Archive

Kate ColeAfter watching Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, Kate Cole was inspired to research the real story behind WW1’s Christmas Truce.

She used The British Newspaper Archive to unearth the experiences of soldiers on the Western Front in 1914.

 

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In December 1914, during first year of World War One, a remarkable event known as the Christmas Day Truce occurred in small pockets along the Western Front. 100 years later, one of Britain’s largest grocery shops has released a Christmas advert re-enacting the famous truce.

With the Sainsbury’s advert appearing on my television virtually every day since mid-November, I decided to do my own research into the Christmas Truce to determine what actually happened. I have done this by using the many local and national newspapers that have been digitally preserved by the excellent British Newspaper Archive.

Attempts to secure an official Christmas truce in 1914

Throughout the length and breadth of Britain, newspapers reported Pope Benedict XV’s attempts to secure a 12-hour Christmas truce on all sides. By 11 December 1914, it was thought that Germany was willing to have a truce.
 
The Birmingham Daily Mail reported that the Pope's attempts to secure a Christmas Truce in 1914 looked favourable.
 
Birmingham Daily Mail – Friday 11 December 1914
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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Just a few days later, newspapers including the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette were reporting that the Pope’s attempt had failed. While the article below mentions that Russia had refused the truce, it’s interesting that of the many reports I’ve read from the beginning of December, none directly confronted Russia for opposing the truce.

Only one newspaper mentioned the (glaringly obvious) reason behind Russia’s refusal –that the date of Christmas in the Orthodox Church was not the same as that observed in the Roman Church. The absence of a reason in the majority of reports is unwitting testimony, showing that the Allies didn’t always see eye-to-eye on matters of the war.
 
The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported that the Pope's attempt to secure a Christmas Truce in 1914 failed.
 
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Monday 14 December 1914
Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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Newspapers printed British soldiers’ Christmas Truce reports

By Wednesday 30 December, the story of the unofficial Christmas Day Truce started to reach Britain. Soldiers’ letters to their loved ones arrived and were often sent to local newspapers, then filtering through to other local and national newspapers.

You’ll find a selection of the images and reports I’ve found about Christmas in the trenches in 1914 below. The stories vary in detail, showing that the Christmas Truce was not uniform with a set beginning and end.
 
The Daily Mirror printed a photo from the Christmas Truce in 1914.
 
Daily Mirror – Friday 08 January 1915
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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A soldier's letter from the Western Front, describing the 1914 Christmas Truce, was printed in the Gloucester Journal
 
Gloucester Journal – Saturday 02 January 1915
Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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An illustration of the 1914 Christmas Day Truce was printed in the Nottingham Evening Post
 
Nottingham Evening Post – Saturday 02 January 1915
Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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A report about the WW1 Christmas Truce, published in the Liverpool Daily Post
 
Liverpool Daily Post – Thursday 31 December 1914
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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This report about World War One's Christmas Day Truce was published in the Aberdeen Journal.
 
Aberdeen Journal – Friday 01 January 1915
Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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Each sector of the Western Front seem to have had their own version – some only allowing the burial of the dead on Christmas morning before hostilities began again, while others continued their truce though the entire festive period.

Some reports also mention that football matches occurred during the Christmas Truce. A soldier’s letter printed in the Gloucester Journal stated that ‘higher up the line – you would scarcely believe it – but they were kicking a football about between the trenches’.

The Christmas Truce was a remarkable World War One event. Even though the Pope was not successful in arranging a formal truce, the soldiers themselves achieved what generals, politicians and religious leaders could not.

 

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Visit Kate’s blog, Essex Voices Past, to read more of her historical research.

 

2 Responses to “The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce, as reported by WW1 newspapers”

Phil MoirDecember 19th, 2014 at 11:40 am

Thank you for researching this truly remarkable story. Extremely emotional reading the “letters” of those who actually experienced the events, rather than someone’s interpretation of what may have happened.

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