by Chris Baker
Stroud, Eng.: Amberly / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. 190.
Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio. $29.95. ISBN: 1445634902
The Reality and Myth of the “Christmas Truce”
The “Christmas Truce” of 1914 has attained mythic proportions in popular lore and even in many histories. Baker, a former Chairman of the Western Front Association, does an excellent job of separating fact from fiction, setting at least the “British” version of the events of Christmas 1914 into context, while dispelling some of the myths that have come to cling to the occasion.
Baker opens with considerable detail on the British operations in France and Belgium in December of 1914, devoting about half the volume to events before the “truce.”. He covers the now largely obscure battles of Wyschaete, Aubers Ridge, and the “German Birdcage,” as well as the arrival of the Indian Corps, an often overlooked presence on the Western Front.
Baker then takes up the truce – or rather the “truces” – in the remaining half of the volume. He notes that such truces had already occurred several times, as the opposing troops agreed to stop shooting in order to help collect the wounded and the dead, to swap news or rations, or just seeking a temporary halt in the killing, a practice certainly well known in other wars, before and since.
Perhaps Baker’s most important point is that the Christmas truces pf 1914 much less widespread than is often believed, perhaps because of a desire from some good news, the influence of photography, or the famous football game, suggesting a more widespread phenomenon. It is true that there was a general reduction of fighting around Christmas, British daily casualties falling by nearly half, but that means there was also a lot of dying still going on. Baker uses many first hand accounts in explaining the motivation of the troops and the problems the truce caused for the higher ups.
The Truce is an excellent read for historian or layman alike with an interest in the Great War and its lore.