A letter written by Captain A. D. Chater, 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, to his “dearest mother” after the Christmas truce of 1914 has been made public on the occasion of the truce’s 100th anniversary.
The British newspaper, The Independent, (Wednesday 24 December 2014) reported on the letter recently published by the British postal service, the Royal Mail, with permission of his family.
Presumably authentic, Captain Chater described the events of Christmas Day where he was along the Western Front in Belgium as “one of the most extraordinary sights anyone has ever seen.”
While starting on Christmas Eve in many places along the 500+ mile Western Front, it did not hit Captain Chater’s line until about 10AM Christmas morning. And, as reported in most places, it was initiated by the Germans.
There are numerous stories of that Christmas Eve night. With a light snow covering no-man’s land between the two lines of trenches, the Germans began with singing, lighted Christmas trees – even a band – at a number of locations along the Front.
“The war to end all wars” was still only months old that Christmas 1914. The armies of British and German soldiers were pitched in opposing trenches across Belgium. In at least one place, a solo rendition of “Silent Night” wafting from the German side started things off.
All coming from “Christian” nations, while speaking different languages, the Allies and Germans shared a mutual appreciation for the meaning of Christmas and a longing to be back home with their families. They also accepted that their enemies might feel the same and these soldiers at war informally, unofficially – and unauthorized – mutually declared a temporary ceasefire from hostilities.
While particularly providing an opportunity to gather their war dead from no-man’s land, this respite was also a chance to stretch their legs and walk around without fear of being shot. But events went far beyond that.
“Enemy” soldiers met in the middle and exchanged cigarettes, food, drink and souvenirs. In some places photographs were taken. A few are known to have survived the past 100 years.
In his letter, Captain Chater noted that their pipers played all Christmas day. And, since no one felt like fighting and there was no sound of gunfire along the Front in either direction, the truce continued even beyond Christmas.
Chater noted the Germans were interested in seeing Christmas photographs taken by the British and that a New Year’s truce was also planned – although it’s not clear it ever actually happened where he was along the Front.
Unfortunately, generals on both sides were angered upon hearing of the Christmas truce and threatened court martial – even execution – for any future infractions. By the beginning of 1915 the war was back in high gear and would continue for almost four more years with over 37 million military and civilian casualties.
Yet, that December in 1914, the message of Christmas was more powerful than national or ideological hatred. Jesus IS the Reason for the Season and He has the power to make a difference – in our hearts, in our lives, in our world!
Merry Christmas 2014
Pastor Gary Byers
PS You can read the four pages of Captain Chater’s handwritten letter for yourself at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/christmas-truce-of-1914-letter-from-trenches-shows-football-match-through-soldiers-eyes-9942929.html