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Cockermouth Post Article December 2014 – Christmas at the Front WWI

Many people will have heard of the Christmas truce of December 1914, when soldiers all along the western front laid their weapons aside for a brief ceasefire. Soldiers from both sides played football together and swapped cigarettes in a gesture of goodwill. Despite initial wariness, in case this was a trick, men came together to shake hands and sing carols. Soldiers also took the opportunity to retrieve the bodies of comrades who had fallen in no-man’s land. One man who died in hospital on Christmas Day 1914 as a result of wounds was John Conway, a former pupil of the Cockermouth Industrial School In the West Cumberland Times of Saturday, 2nd January, 1915 there is an account of a Christmas truce that took place:

“Men from both sides mingled together, exchanged souvenirs, or cigarettes, smoked together, and even walked about with linked arms. In one place a hare was chased both by British and Germans, and the latter were fortunate enough to secure it. Saxons and British also contended against each other at football, and it is stated that the Saxons won. Some British soldiers sang hymns for the Germans, and the Germans also lifted up their voices in song for the benefit of British hearers. Photographs were taken of the foes who, for the day, at any rate, were on fraternal terms. One of the most impressive things that occurred was the burial of the dead, and a joint service, in German and English, for the gallant men on both sides who had laid down their lives for their respective countries. It was, therefore, in one part of the stricken field at least, a hallowed and a gracious time.”

Every officer and man of the Army received a card of good wishes from the King and Queen, and a present from the Princess Mary. A special Order of the Day sent words of greeting from the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force. One wonders how his greetings would have gone down with the men in the trenches, where the weather was reported to have become ‘deplorably wet’, and it was found to be impossible to hold the whole line of the trenches due to their being waterlogged. Later in the month of January 1915 there was frost and snow, followed by a thaw, when the weather was ‘wet and miserable’. It is salutary to remember the men who had to endure these conditions, as we celebrate Christmas in the comfort of our own homes with friends and family.
We send everyone the compliments of the season and a thank you for your support during the year. As usual, please get in touch with any queries or information you want to share.

Gloria Edwards

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