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By Stanley Bowling
Christmas Day in 1914 was much different than Christmas Day 2014 will be.
As World War I raged across Europe, after nearly five months of war, and nearly six months to the day after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, Christmas Day in the trenches did not look to be a time of peace on earth or goodwill towards men. The enemy had lost its human face, only to be replaced by a nondescript face of something worthy of contempt.
But on this particular Christmas Day, some enemies found that the face of their enemy was indeed human after all. In the The Manchester Guardian, December 31, 1914 edition, the article “Christmas Truce” contained a letter from a British officer describing “some remarkable fraternizing among enemies” that included sharing food, cigarettes, small talk and possibly, even a football match in which a “bully beef tin” was the ball. One British soldier even went and gave a German soldier a haircut! Another soldier, writing a letter to his family in East Finchley, and printed in the London Evening News, spoke of meeting some of their enemies on Christmas Day and talking together in English. A group even posed for a photo taken by a German officer. He went on to say that “I wouldn’t have missed the experience of yesterday for the most gorgeous Christmas dinner in England.”
Lest we get the idea that this particular Christmas Day was a time of peace on the front lines, other articles attest to ongoing battles on Christmas Day 1914, and some troops never saw another Christmas Day. But the war did not just impact those fighting, but those at home. And through some targeted searching, a feature of the ProQuest databases that allows multiple keyword/phrase searching, by date ranges, you can read how The Times of India, printed on Christmas Day, 1914 that “for the British Empire, this is a war of ideals... fighting this Christmas, and will, if necessary, be fighting next Christmas too.” ("Christmas in War-Time," Times of India, 12/25/1914).
ProQuest’s wide range of international historical newspapers help to give a unique perspective on events not possible from American newspapers alone, especially when such events take place before the American involvement in the war. Although with American newspapers, we can get a glimpse into the lives of those on the German side as well, thus giving a more rounded view of the war and especially Christmastime.
For example, “Christmas in the Trenches: French Prisoners of War under German Escort” in the December 25, 1914 edition of the Boston Daily Globe, comes from Berlin, and tells of the German Empress, and American women, giving out gifts to wounded soldiers and the poor of the city.
The many resources of ProQuest history products, when added with primary sources and first-hand reports, make for a marvelous story about humanity, and maybe, hope for future Christmas Day truces around the world.
Librarians: learn more and sign up for free trials of Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, ProQuest Historical Newspapers™, and other ProQuest resources with valuable content on world conflicts.
[Image at top from The Inchkeith Lyre: The Non-Official Organ of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Scots.]