Ypres, Belgium & Frelinghien, France
For men who go to war, there are few times as lonely as Christmas, when home and family can seem so far away. Few men in such times look for the hope of holiday joy, and fewer still expect much in the way of miracles. But on December 24, 1914, in the midst of the carnage of the greatest war mankind had yet seen, English, French and German soldiers on the Western Front experienced the miracle, at least for a few days, of Peace on Earth. This was the famous Christmas Truce, the greatest, most spontaneous display of the true spirit of Christmas in wartime in history.
According to tradition, it began on Christmas Eve in the area around Ypres, in Belgium. Soldiers in the German trenches began to sing Christmas carols. Legend has it that Silent Night was the first to be crooned. They were answered by singing from the English trenches. The singing quickly spread up and down the line on both sides. An informal truce was called so that the dead lying out in no-man’s land could be collected and buried. Informally organized by the soldiers and low-ranking officers, the cease-fire came to be known as the Khaki Chums Christmas Truce. A simple cross, erected in 1999 outside of Ypres in Belgium, marks the place where the truce started.
Much to the consternation of the senior officers on both sides, the enemy combatants began to fraternize. This was especially true between the German and British soldiers. They sang carols, exchanged addresses and gifts, drank toasts, and aided each other in the burial of the dead. At several points in the line, impromptu football matches took place between the enemies. One notable game took place at Frelinghien in France between the British Royal Welch Fusiliers and the German Saxon Infantry Regiment. A memorial stone was erected on the site of this match in 2008.
The Christmas Truce Cross is a small wooden cross located in a field not too far outside of Ypres in Belgium, about seventy miles west of Brussels and close to the French border. The Christmas Truce Football Memorial is a stone marker located in Frelinghiem, about eight miles further south just across the French border. The two are within easy driving distance of each other. Both memorials are open sites, and there is no charge for admission at either. Web: www.christmastruce.co.uk (unofficial website of Christmas Truce memorials and events)