Leeds nostalgia: No Christmas truce in 1915 as war drags on

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The Christmas of 1915 was a melancholy affair for troops fighting in the trenches to say the least.

It was a year precisely since the famous Christmas truce of 1914, during which some British and German troops briefly forgot their differences to exchange presents and pleasantries and even play a game of football.

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The event has passed into modern myth and been romanticised ever since.

However, it seems the same mood of camaraderie was distictly absent in 1915.

“Christmas Day broke over the British Westers Front wet, blowing and altogether cheerless. As the morning advanced, however, the clouds began to roll up and take a paler hue, the sun struggled through in a misty rayless manner and by dinner time (that is to say, the soldier’s dinner time), it was quite fine and very mild on the whole.”

The report from the Yorkshire Evening Post relates a general mood of misery and misgiving.

“The enemy seems to have been satisfied to spend his Christmas in a quiet manner. There was apparently no intention in the British lines, if the Germans manifested no desire to be aggressive, to attempt to force them into hasty activity.”

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It did not stop them entertaining themselves, however. The report notes: “During the afternoon every available acre of meadow under any sort of cover in the rear of the lines was taken possession of for football. In the trenches themselves there was a good deal of hearty, though desultory, singing. In places where the enemy lines skirt our own pretty close, the gutteral chanting of the ‘Boches’ was borne wavering along the breeze and was invariably the signal for a deeper outburst of chorusing on the part of our men, as if to drown the sound.

“The overtures in the direction of fraternising on the part of the Germans were but slight and faint-hearted, as though their contemptuous rejection by our men were a foregone conclusion.”

On the whole, soldiers from the British side said they were glad when Christmas Day had passed. One Highlander said: “We don’t want to stop and think more than we can help. We just want to get on with it, so that we may the sooner be finished.”

As though to underline the sense of drudgery, shortly after that exchange, the correspondent “heard the slow thump of feet”, adding: “through the slashing rain came a draped coffin on a gun carriage, and soldiers marching slowly... their heads bent to the drift of the rain.”

They were the final guardians of the body of a gallant colonel, killed by a sniper’s bullet on Christmas Eve.”

Some Yorkshire lads, meanwhile, engaged in a little friendly banter, with one noting: “Father Christmas would be a fool to come out here.”

One of the soldiers had come out on the ‘Christmas boat’, laden with presents. It was estimated that some three million letters and around a million presents were delivered to soldiers at the front in a bid to brighten their days.

But most agreed there was a “humorous irony” and a “grim paradox” in the celebrating of the day while at the same time fighting a war in the waterlogged trenches, battling not just an enemy with guns but the cold and the wet.

Leeds nostalgia: September 1985: Harrogate stages war games