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By Ray Rimell

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We got into conversation with the Germans who were anxious to arrange an Armistice during Christmas. A scout named F Murker went out and met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whiskey and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us. ’ This was only the prelude. The 2nd Scots Guards’ War Diary would have much more to say about the events of the following day. As Told by the Tommies Perhaps the richest source of evidence about the Christmas Truce is to be found in the mass of letters sent home by soldiers who had observed it or taken part in it.

A letter by a soldier of another battalion, Rifleman Ernest Morley of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, which was in the line some way to the south of Plugstreet, on the edge of Armentières, gives a similar high profile to musical exchanges between the lines. His account of what he elsewhere in his letter described as ‘a perfect scream’ begins with an attempt by the British, not, as was usually the case, by the Germans, to initiate Christmas celebrations, if not entirely in accordance with the spirit of Christian peace and goodwill: ‘We had decided to give the Germans a Christmas present of three carols and three rifle rounds rapid.

The point is well made in the book which has been recognised as the classic work on the subject, Tony Ashworth’s Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System, first published in 1980:* ‘Truces were usually tacit, but always unofficial and illicit. The agreement between antagonists was unspoken and expressed in certain actions – or non-actions – which were meaningful to front fighters but not always to others. Truces were illegal at all times for they were neither created nor legitimated by authority but explicitly forbidden.

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