To recapitulate the conventional historical interpretation of the episode,
the Christmas truce was a moment of sanity in the midst of the brutal and
senseless lunacy of the First World War. Keegan sums up the entire event in a short paragraph:
Early on the morning of Christmas Day, the Germans in the line opposite
the British, between Ypres and Messines, began to sing Christmas carols
and display Christmas trees on their parapet. Germans then came forward
into no-man’s-land and proposed a break in the fighting. Parties from both
sides began to mingle, to exchange tobacco and drinks, to sing together,
and, in one place, to organize a football match. They also agreed to allow
burial of the dead in no-man’s-land. The truce persisted the following day
and in places for some days afterwards but the high command on both
sides disapproved and took measures to stop the fraternization. There
was none on the French front.38
Unfortunately, this account, in common with so many of those cited, is riddled with inaccuracies.39
Those errors are, in order: (1) In most cases the singing and Christmas-tree-lighting took place on
Christmas Eve, and in some cases the suggestion of a truce came on Christmas Eve as well; (2)
Belgian and French troops participated as well, although not in the same numbers or proportion as
British and German troops; (3) As can be seen on the detailed map provided in the Brown/Seaton
book, there were no recorded instances of truces from Ypres to Messines; the area covered was in
fact Messines to (almost) La Bassee – a distance at least four times as long; (4) Not all Germans
sang, although a number did. Some also displayed Christmas trees, but this was mainly on
Christmas Eve, when they could be lit and seen; (5) Part of the time, the Germans came forward.
Mostly, troops arranged the truce orally before advancing en masse into No Man’s Land, or sent
out a lone man, obviously unarmed, to start negotiations for the truce; (6) In some cases, a break
in the fighting was proposed. In some cases, soldiers only asked for a brief ceasefire for the purposes of burying the dead; (7) There were many instances of full scale fraternization but in
many other cases, troops did only some or none of the things Keegan lists; (8) In some cases, the
purpose of the truce was merely to bury the dead; (9) The truce persisted to the next day for some
troops. For others, it ended immediately after burying the dead, or when the soldiers had prearranged
for it to end: in late afternoon, in the early evening, or after midnight; (10) The high
command did not take many steps to stop the fraternization, as mostly it ended on its own
without interference – generally when the troops opposite rotated out of the trenches, which
usually occurred within 1-3 days after Christmas Day, as when no attack or campaign was
underway troops usually rotated out of the trenches every three to four days; and (11) Although
the number of French troops participating was relatively small compared to the British, there
certainly were, as already noted, instances of French/German truces.
Among the casualties in Great Yarmouth were sixteen injured and four dead - two in each town.
I. English language version of a German newsreel item on a nurse on the bridge of a hospital ship in home waters, 1915.
II. English language version of a German newsreel item on a visit by Princess Alexandra Victoria to a military hospital in Germany, early 1915.
III. English language version of a German newsreel item on a visit by the King and Queen of Bavaria to a military hospital in Munich, early 1915.
IV. English language version of a German newsreel item on cooking food by chemical means, probably early 1915.
V. English language version of a German newsreel item on troops resting, early 1915.
VI. English language version of a German newsreel item on horsemen assembling a transport column, probably Western Front, 1915.
VII. English language version of a German newsreel item on troops about to leave for the front lines, Western Front, early 1915.
VIII. English language version of a German newsreel item on a field battery in training, probably in Germany, 1915.
IX. English language version of a German newsreel item on German troops on the Ypres Ridges, Western Front, probably early 1915.
X. English language version of a German newsreel item on a field bakery and butchers, probably Western Front, 1915.
XI. English language version of a German newsreel item on the Kaiser visiting his troops, probably Eastern Front, winter 1914-1915.
XII. English language version of a German newsreel item on the Kaiserin visiting a hospital train, possibly Berlin, 1915.
The hospital ship is at anchor, with other vessels in the far distance. On the bridge a nurse, assisted by a sailor, is handling the wheel.
Princess Alexandra Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, wife of Prince August Wilhelm, inspects ambulance drivers on parade in the snow, then looks over a hospital train in a siding.
King Ludwig III of Bavaria and his wife inspect the exterior of the hospital buildings. Their son, Doctor Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, a qualified medical officer in charge of a hospital train, meets them beside the train as it starts to unload wounded soldiers.
The demonstration is given in close-up, in the open, by a soldier wearing thick protective gloves. Quicklime has been inserted into the base of a tin of food. After a few minutes the soldier opens the tin with a can-opener and shows that the stew inside is boiling.
The men appear to be holding a joke pageant, which seems to be mocking the British Army.
The men dash about in all directions, harnessing and setting up the column, which then moves off. The caption, describing this as "German militia occupy a French town", is incorrect.
The men are the reserve battalion of an Infantry regiment. They line up in a column and an officer moves from man to man checking the condition of their rifles - a battle-check, not a parade.
Six observers for the battery ride up, dismount, and take up a stance with binoculars. 77mm field guns are galloped into positions in the open and ready to fire. The captions describe this as being at the front.
Snow is falling quite heavily, and some of the men go down into their dugouts. Others, including some pipe-smoking veterans, remain on the surface.
The open-air Army bakery is in the rest areas, producing loaves while nearby butchers start to cut up carcasses draped over their tables.
The men are drawn up on parade beside a road in the snow. The Kaiser's car arrives and he talks with his officers before again driving off.
The train is in a main-line station. Kaiserin Auguste Victoria inspects the train (outside only) talking with the officers and nurses.
Germany's monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II had a withered and useless left arm caused by the use of forceps when he was born that also affected him psychologically and emotionally.
He never wanted himself or Germany to appear weak; hence he developed a strong will, an aggressive demeanor and an arrogance that led to a complex mix of stubbornness and instability.
He had no real political power, but appointed those who did - notably the chiefs of the army and navy, and the Chancellor, or Prime Minister.
The implication was that his personality assured the world would go to war.
I wasn't implying that Massie's theory was original or on the mark.
Just that I enjoyed the documentary.