General Congreve describes the Christmas truce (1914)

General Walter Congreve won the Victoria Cross in the Boer War and became divisional commander on the Western Front. On Christmas Day 1914 he wrote to his wife, describing the ‘Christmas truce’ that had spontaneously broken in some parts of the front line:

Christmas Day,

Darling dear,

As I cannot be with you all, the next best thing is to write to you for so I get closer.

We have had a seasonable weather day – which means sharp frost & fog & never a smich of sun. I went to church with two of my battalions in an enormous factory room, and after lunch took down to the North Staffords in my old trenches at Rue du Bois Mother’s gifts of toffee, sweets, cigarettes, pencils, handkerchiefs and writing paper.

There I found an extraordinary state of affairs. This morning a German shouted out that they wanted a day’s truce, and would one come out if he did. So very cautiously one of our men lifted himself above the parapet and saw a German doing the same. Both got out, then more, and finally all day long in that particular place they have been walking about together all day giving each other cigars and singing songs. Officers as well as men were out, and the German colonel himself was talking to one of our captains.

My informant, one of the men, said he had had a fine day of it and had smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army, [who was] not more than 18. They say he’s killed more of our men than any other 12 together, but I know now where he shoots from and I hope we down him tomorrow.

I hope devoutly they will. Next door the two battalions opposite each other were shooting away all day. And so I hear it was further north, 1st RB playing football with the Germans opposite them, the next regiments shooting each other.

I was invited to go and see the Germans myself but refrained as I thought they might not be able to resist [shooting] a general…