Carols in the Trenches

A reminder of the events in the trenches, Christmas 1914, when an unofficial truce was declared by the soldiers on both sides.

The "Carols in the Trenches" event is held each year in the trenches at The Staffordshire Regiment Museum, Whittington.

It reconstructs the story of Christmas 1914 when an unofficial cease-fire occurred.

British and German troops sang carols across no-mans land, and even ventured out of their trenches to play football against the enemy and to exchange gifts.

Members of several Great War re-enactment groups join together in the trenches to play out this amazing true story and to sing Christmas carols, accompanied by members of a local choir and up to 160 members of the public.


The following was written by Lance-Corportal A Lockett, of the 1st North Staffs Regiment on active service:

I am pleased to say that I quite enjoyed myself on Christmas Day; we were having a bit of a spree with the Germans. We had an informal truce, we both met halfway. One of their officers asked one of ours if they could come out and bury their dead, so our officer agreed and then we went out to help them. I wish you could have seen the sight, there were hundreds of them lying dead. When they had finished their work a chum of mine fetched his melodeon out and you should have seen our fellows. We quite made the Germans stare. One of our fellows went across to the German trenches dressed in women's clothes. There was a bit of sport at first, they thought we were the Russians in front of them. They said they were sorry that they had got to fight the English. The regiment that was in front of us were the Saxons and, as you know, Saxons are more English than German. It is the Prussians and the Uhlans that are doing the damage. These men that are in front of us are like gentlemen; they would not shoot at us. Some of them gave themselves up and said that they did not want to fight against us, and that there are some more coming in


"It was a curious scene - a lovely moonlit (Christmas) night, the German trenches with small lights on them, and the men on both sides gathered in groups on the parapets. It is weird to think that tomorrow night we shall be at it again. If one gets through this show it will be a Christmas time to live in one's memory."

Captain R Armes of the 1st North Staffordshire regiment.


January 4th 1915

Our Friends The Enemy.
North Staffords' Christmas Day Truce.

Sergeant C. Lightfoot, C Company, 1st North Staffordshire Regiment, in a letter dated December 28th, 1914, to the Sentinel says: "On Christmas Day we saw a sight past imagination. The Germans left their trenches and so did we. We met them half-way and you should have seen them shaking hands, exchanging addresses, and souvenirs &c. They brought us plenty of cigars and tobacco. There was not a shot fired between us all Christmas Day. One of our men played a melodeon and the Germans danced to it and gave us some very good singing."


January 13th 1915

WITH THE NORTH STAFFORDS AT THE FRONT.

The following are extracts from a letter dated January 3rd sent by Lance Corporal H Shufflebotham of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment:

"We had a very bad time in the trenches this time on account of the bad weather, and there are no end of men going sick through colds &c. We were in the trenches from December 11th to the 31st and now we have come down to --, where we are to stay in billets for five days. After that we go back into the trenches for four days and then, I believe we go down country for a new outfit and a rest. We had a very good Christmas taking all things into consideration. You may not believe it but it is the truth. Our regiment and the Germans met halfway between the trenches (which are only 40 to 50 yards apart) and shook hands and exchanged cigarettes, cigars &c. Not a shot was fired as it was arranged on both sides that there should not be. They (the Germans) seemed as though they were short of food as they even begged bully beef and we gave it to them freely. They are quite a young lot of chaps, ranging from 16 upwards. I was talking to several of them and they said they were fed up and ready to throw in and no doubt you will see it in the Sentinel in due course. We had a fine Christmas box from Princess Mary and one from the Staffordshire Sentinel containing a pound box of chocolate and a New Year's gift from the same source of 20 packets of cigarettes and eight ounces of tobacco in addition to which we also had eight packets of cigarettes from B company of the North Staffords at home".


January 13th 1915
:

NORTH STAFFORDS TRUCE WITH GERMANS.

The following very interesting letter was received by Mr and Mrs R E Oakes of 1 Broad-street, Scotia Road, Burslem, from their son Corporal A P Oakes of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment, on active service:

"On Christmas Eve, I was sent on an errand to --. While making my way through the streets of the town, I had quite a crowd of French children round me asking for souvenirs. They mistook me for Father Christmas for I was covered from head to heel with mud. I got back to the 'death trap' (as we have christened the particular trench we were holding) at dusk, and as I heard shots from German snipers, I wondered if that was their usual way of celebrating Christmas Eve. About eight o'clock, however, the enemy, who at this point are entrenched only thirty to fifty yards away, placed a number of lighted candles on the top of their trenches. Or chaps started to shout across good humouredly and the Germans replied in the same spirit. Then both sides got on the top of their respective trenches and one of each side met halfway. Then "Peace on earth, goodwill towards men" was the order of the day or rather the night. A regular singing contest began our chaps giving 'Tipperary', 'Thora', 'Way Down De Swannee River' and several other well-known songs. The programme tendered by the "Grey-coated Pierrots" (Germans) was very good, and included the Austrian and German National Anthems and 'The Watch on the Rhine'. A baritone singer gave 'Sailor Beware' in English, and several other songs. We learned that he was a well-known opera singer and he certainly did not disgrace opera. At 10 o'clock we sang 'The King' bade them good-night and turned in. Christmas Day dawned at last but I found nothing in my socks but a pair of feet so cold that I hardly knew they were there. If Santa Claus had not been round, Jack Frost had. After breakfast I, with several others, went halfway between the trenches and entered into conversation with the English-speaking Germans. They were members of the --Regiment (Saxons) and very decent chaps they seemed. They told us their regimens had been in Kiel Harbour for three months waiting to go to England before they had been sent down to the fighting line. THey said their officers had told them that General von Hinden burg had practically defeated the Russian Army, and a few days previously they had heard of a great German victory over the Russians. We showed them English papers but they argued that our papers were just as liable to lie as theirs. They all seemed anxious for a speedy termination of the war, and one fellow made us laugh by saying that both sides ought to stand back to back and advance. I noticed a couple of our chaps and a couple of Germans eating black bread and German sausage, and they made a pretty picture I assure you! Cigars were plentiful among them and they were very generous with them. I had a very nice pocket-knife given to me by one of them, and the postcard (which will be reproduced in the Weekly Sentinel) enclosed is a group of this regiment. At 4pm we returned to our trenches and spent the rest of the day in peace for true to their word they did not fire at us. A peculiar thing about it was that the regiments on either side of us kept up hostilities."


January 9th, 1915

Christmas Truce. German dissatisfaction. Stringent Army Order. (Daily Telegraph Telegram). Rotterdam, Friday.


Since Christmas an order has been issued in Germany, says The Vorwarts forbidding German soldiers to approach the Allies' trenches with the object of fraternising with the men in them. It publishes, however, a letter from a soldier describing what took place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The writers says: "Suddenly from the enemy hurrahing was heard, and surprised, we came from our mouse-holes and saw the English advancing towards us, waving white cigarette boxes, handkerchiefs, and towels. They had no rifles with them, and therefore we knew it could only be a greeting and that it was all right. We advanced towards them about halfway. We were only about 200 metres from each other. The greeting took place in the presence of officers from both sides. Cigarettes, cigars and many other things were exchanged, and even snapshots of both sides were taken. The English began playing with a football they had with them. On darkness descending both sides returned to their drawing-rooms, having promised that for the next three days of the holidays they would not fire on each other. This promise was given as a 'word of honour' and extended on both sides to the artillery as well as the cavalry and infantry. The French lay a little further away, and therefore did not take part in this. They were under fire the whole of the day by our artillery. We were able to move about the whole of Christmas Day with absolute freedom. It was a day of peace in war. It is only a pity that it was not a decisive peace". (Through Reuters' Agency)


January 15th, 1915

The North Staffords' Christmas Truce.

Giving his Christmas experiences at the front, Private Simnett, of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment, writing to his father at Moor-street, Bourton-on-Trent, says: "This story will be hard to swallow in England, but it is quite true. As the German trenches were not more than fifty yards away, we shouted and asked them to come over for Christmas - just for a joke, of course; but anyway they asked us to cease firing and sent a man out from each side between the trenches. Believe me, it was not long before we were all out and it was arranged to cease firing until midnight Christmas. We were having cigars from them and giving them cigarettes, and singing and playing all day. Everyone was carrying on as usual; in fact the transport fellows came up as they would not believe it. Several of the Germans were from London and were wishing the war was over. One of them even suggested that we should finish it off at football or throwing mud at each other, as we should not get hurt. No doubt you would have liked to be here for the day. What funny things happen in this war!"

Amsterdam, Friday:

"The Taegliche Rundschau in a long article, points out the danger which lies in fraternisation between Germans and French, and greetings such as were recently exchanged between the trenches. "War is no sport" the journal says "and we are sorry to say that those who made these overtures or took part in them did not clearly understand the gravity of the situation." These considerations did not escape the attention of the army authorities, and the newspaper states with great satisfaction that an army order issued on December 29th forbids for the future similar fraternisation and any rapprochement with the enemy in the trenches. All acts contrary to this order will be punished as high treason".