"We Met in No Man's Land" Letters from the 1914 truce first printed in The Sentinel January 1915
Evening Sentinel, January 13, 1915
Cpl H Shufflebotham
'We agreed no shots be fired'
THE following extracts are from a letter dated January 3 sent in by Corporal Shufflebotham (local man) of the North Staffs Regiment:
"We had a very good Christmas taking everything into consideration. You may not believe it, but it is the truth.
"Our regiment and the Germans met half-way between the trenches (which are only 40 to 50 yards apart) and shook hands, and exchanged cigarettes, cigars etc, and 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, from about 16 upwards. I was talking to several of them, and they said that they were fed up and ready to throw it all in, and no doubt you will see it in The Sentinel in due course.
"We had a Christmas box from Princess Mary, and another from the Staffordshire Sentinel, containing a pound box of chocolates, 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 received eight packets of cigarettes from B Company of the North Staffords at home."
NOTE: All the British troops received an embossed brass box from Princess Mary containing tobacco, sweets or chocolate.
Evening Sentinel, January 13, 1915
L/Cpl A Locket, local man
'Enemy thought he was Russian'
THE following letter extract has been received from Lance Corporal A Locket of the North Staffs Regiment on active service:
"I quite enjoyed myself on Christmas Day. We were having quite a spree with the Germans. We had an informal truce. Both sides met half-way between each other's trenches. One of their officers asked one of our officers if they could come out and bury their dead, and our officer agreed, and 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 mouth organ out, and you should have seen our fellows, we quite made the Germans stare. One of our chaps went across to the German trenches dressed in women's clothes.
"There was a bit of sport at first, and for a minute, the Germans thought that he was a Russian soldier (Russian soldiers wore long-flowing greatcoats and scarves). They said that they were very sorry that they had to fight the English.
"This regiment was a Saxon regiment, 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 us.
NOTE: Uhlans – soldiers fighting for the Germans, which were of Polish or Lithuanian origin.
Evening Sentinel, January 13, 1915
Cpl A P Oakes
'Germans seemed all decent chaps'
NORTH Staffords' truce with Germans. The following interesting letter has been received by Mr and Mr Oakes of 1, Broad Street, Scotia Road, Burslem, from their son, Corporal A P Oakes of the 1st Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, on active service:
"On Christmas Eve, I was sent out 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 in mud. I got back to the death trap (as we have christened the trench we are holding) at dusk, and I heard shots from German snipers. I wondered if it was their usual way of celebrating Christmas Eve. About 8pm, however, the enemy, who at this point were entrenched about 30 to 50 yards away, had placed a number of lit candles on the tops of their trenches.
"Our chaps started to shout across good-humouredly, and the Germans replied in the same spirit. Then both sides got on top of their respective trenches, and one man from both sides met half way, then 'peace on earth, good will to all men!' was the order of the day, or rather the night.
"A regular singing contest began. Our chaps singing Tipperary, Thora, Swannee River and several other well-known songs. The programme then went over to the grey-coated Germans, and they were very good, which included the German and Austrian national anthems, and Watch on the Rhine. A baritone sang Sailor Beware in English. We learned later that he was a well-known opera singer. At 10pm, we sang The King, bade them goodnight 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 that they were there.
"If Santa Claus had not been round, Jack Frost had! After breakfast with several others, I went half-way between the trenches and entered into conversation with the English-speaking Germans. They were members of the (word deleted) Regiment [Saxons] and very decent chaps they seemed. They told us that their regiment had been in Kiel harbour for about three months, waiting to go to England [invade], but then they had been sent down to the fighting line.
"They said their officers told them that General von Hindenburg had defeated the Russian Army, and a few days earlier they had heard of a German victory over the Russians. We showed them English newspapers, but they argued that English newspapers were just as able to lie as theirs.
"They all seemed anxious for a speedy termination of the war, and one fellow made us all laugh by saying that both sides should all 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 all made a pretty picture I can assure you.Cigars were plentiful among them, and they were generous with them. I had a very nice pocket knife given to me by one of them, and a postcard that I hope will be reproduced in the Weekly Sentinel, and enclosed is a photo of a group from 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.
"On Christmas morning we each received a Christmas card from the King and Queen, and also received Princess Mary's present, which was very nice indeed. The proprietors of The Sentinel very kindly sent us a present of chocolate, tobacco and cigarettes. And the troops greatly appreciated this. After digging trenches, we spent the rest of the evening singing to each other.
We are now at rest for a few days, after being in the trenches for a 20-day stretch. We shall soon be back in again, however, and we are all hoping that we shall oppose a regiment of the same calibre as the last."
NOTE: Princess Mary's gift to the troops was an embossed brass box filled with tobacco, or sweets, chocolates etc for non-smokers. Many are still around today. The town name left blank early in the letter could have been hard to read in the original letter, or left out for security reasons, and could well be same case for leaving the German regiment name out.
Sentinel, January 2, 1915
'Astonished by how we got on'
NORTH Staffords' fraternisation with Germans on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914. Exchange of greetings between the trenches.
An officer of the North Staffordshire Regiment (anonymous) writes on Christmas Eve: "We had been calling to one another for some time Christmas wishes and other things. I went out and shouted 'no shooting' and somehow the scene became a peaceful one. All our men got out of their trenches and sat on top of the parapet, the Germans did the same, and they talked to one another in broken English.
"I got on the top of the trench and asked the Germans to sing a Volkslied, which they did, then our men sang quite well.
"I asked one German who had sang a solo to sing one of Schumann's songs, so he sang the Two Grenadiers splendidly. Our men enjoyed his singing. I then arranged with a German officer to bury our, and their, dead.
"This morning after reveille, after burying the dead, our men and the Germans met in between the trenches and began to talk, and exchange gifts of tobacco etc.
"All morning we had been fraternising, and I was within a yard of the German trenches and talking to the German officers.
"The Germans we found out were Saxons, a good-looking lot, only wishing for peace. I was astonished at the easy way our men and the Germans got on with one another.
We have just knocked off for dinner, and have agreed to meet afterwards till dusk and sing songs until 9pm.
"When 'war' begins again, I wonder who will start the shooting. The Germans said to us 'Fire in the air and we will'. But of course it will start again tomorrow and we will be hard at work killing each other again!
Sentinel, January 5, 1915
Private Simnett, 1st North Staffords
'Funny things happen in war'
PRIVATE Simnett, 1st North Staffords, writing to his father in Burton upon Trent, says: "This story will be hard to swallow for the people in England, but it is quite true.
As the German trenches were only about 50 yards away, just for a joke we shouted to them and asked them to come over for Christmas.
They asked us to cease firing and sent a man out half-way between the trenches.
"And it was not long before we were all out. Some men from other units who were still fighting could not believe it. Some of the Germans had lived in London and wished the war was over.
One of them suggested that we should finish off with a football match, or throw mud at each other as we should not get hurt. What funny things happen in this war!"
Sentinel, January 6, 1915
Troops removed after ceasefire
THE fraternising between the British and German troops were not the only cases. Similar incidents occurred between French and German troops who refused to fire on each other again, and had to be removed from the trenches and replaced by other men.
Sentinel, January 9, 1915
From telegram in the Daily Telegraph
'Do it again, and that's treason'
SINCE Christmas, an order has been issued in Germany forbidding German soldiers to approach the Allied trenches with the object of fraternising with the Allies.
It publishes, however, a letter from a German soldier describing what took place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The writer says: "Suddenly from the British trenches, hurrahing was heard, and surprised, we came out from our mouseholes and saw the English advancing towards us, waving white handkerchiefs, cigarette boxes, and towels.
"They had no rifles with them, and therefore we knew it could only be a greeting. We advanced towards them about half-way. We were only about 200 metres from each other.
"The greetings 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. With darkness approaching, both sides returned to their trenches, having promised that for the next three days of the holiday they would not fire on each other. This promise was given as a word of honour, and extended on both sides to the artillery and cavalry.
"The French were a little further away and did not take part in this and they were under fire all day by enemy artillery.
"We were able to move about all Christmas Day with absolute freedom. It was a day of peace in the midst of war. It is only a pity that it was not a decisive peace.
"It was later agreed by both sides that any similar fraternisation in the future with the enemy will be classed as high treason."
Evening Sentinel, January 6, 1915
Cpl T Goodwin
'You dare not show your head'
Northumberland Fusiliers' Losses. Corporal T Goodwin of the Northumberland Fusiliers, whose home is at 14 Norfolk Street, Shelton, who is at present in the Westminster Hospital in London, in a letter to his wife, he says:
"We had a rough time of it there. We lost 1,200 men and 40 officers.
"My chum got a shrapnel straight into him. Don't believe all you read in the newspapers, and letters about playing football in the firing line, and shaking hands with the Germans.
"You dare not show your head out of the trenches or you would get a bullet through it."
NOTE: Another side of the truce story. As other letters state, the North Staffords were facing Saxon regiments and Bavarian regiments, who did not want to fight the British as much as the Prussian regiments facing other British regiments.
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