Christmas Truce 1914
Themes: Christmas; Christmas Eve; peace and goodwill; comradeship; the power of the Christmas 'message'.
Summary: By Christmas 1914 soldiers from the Allied and German armies had dug-in along a trench system reaching from Switzerland to the North Sea. On Christmas Eve the guns fell silent. The following morning - Christmas Day - troops on both sides climbed from their trenches and met together in No-Man's-Land, between the battle lines. They shared drinks, played football, embraced, exchanged presents and sang carols. This spontaneous truce was observed in several places along the Western Front, but by no means everywhere. The following day - Boxing Day - the fighting began once again.
A soldier writes in his diary about the events of the famous Christmas Truce during the first year of World War 1.
The truce begins with the guns falling silent on Christmas Eve, a solitary German soldier singing 'Stille Nacht' and the British soldiers joining in with 'Silent Night' from their trenches.
The following morning the soldiers meet in No Man's Land to chat, play games and share gifts. The unofficial truce lasts a single day. On Boxing Day, the guns begin pounding once more.
Duration: 3' 35"
End of speech: '...Strangest Christmas I ever had.'
- In which year did the Christmas Truce take place? (1914 - first year of WW1)
- What is the title of 'Silent Night' in German? ('Stille Nacht')
- About what time did the Christmas Truce begin on Christmas Eve? (According to our account it began at about 8pm)
- What name did the German soldiers have for British ones? (Tommy)
- What game did the British and German soldiers play together? (Football)
1. Entry music
The guitar instrumental of 'Silent Night' (also in Related links below).
Display the image of WW1 soldiers. Ask the children to tell you as much as they can about the photograph. Who do they think these men are? Where might they be? When might the photo have been taken? How do the children think the men in the photograph are feeling? Establish that this is a photograph from the trenches of WW1. Tell the children it was taken on Christmas Day 1914, in the middle of that terrible war. Ask: 'What do you think Christmas felt like to the soldiers fighting the war?' and 'What might they have been thinking about at this time?' Gather the pupils' responses, which might touch on how homesick the men felt, as they thought of peaceful past Christmases and of their families, far away. Then play the video clip. It uses a mixture of real accounts and archive images of the Truce, together with stills that illustrate wartime conditions at the front.
3. The video
Play the video. The duration is 3' 35" and the final words are: '...Strangest Christmas I ever had.'
4. After the video
You could use the Video questions (above) to help pupils focus on details from the video clip.
5. Time to talk
Choose one child to read aloud the line: 'We didn't understand the words, but we all knew the tune. It was 'Silent Night'. They had the same carol as us!' Ask: 'Why do you think the German soldiers singing 'Stille Nacht' made such an impression on the British soldiers?' The children might respond that the singing showed the British troops how much they had in common with the men they were fighting and that people on the two sides of the front line were not so different. Ask: 'What can we learn today from the Christmas Truce?' [Guide the children's responses towards the idea that the Christmas story is so powerful it can stop a war in its tracks - even if only briefly - and that the things that unite us as human beings are stronger than the things which divide us. Follow up activities could include reciting the first verse of the carol in both English and German and a range of drama activities based on the Truce.
6. Opportunity to sing
You could sing the carol 'Silent Night'. There are links to videos of both an instrumental and a vocal version in Suggested songs below. Both videos include the text of the song to sing along with.
7. Opportunity for reflection
You may wish to play the Christmas Truce video slideshow (also in Key links above). It lasts for 1 minute and comprises archive images of the Truce. Say the following:
The Christmas Truce shows us that we are all human. It asks us to treat others with the kindness and respect we ourselves deserve, to share with them and to show good will towards all people. It shows the power of the Christmas 'message'. As you watch, think to yourselves quietly what the power of the Christmas message means to you...
8. Opportunity for prayer
Use your standard form of address ('Dear God', 'Lord Jesus', etc) and:
We thank you for your powerful Christmas message of peace and good will towards all people.
Help us to treat others with kindness and respect, to share with them and to never forget that we are all human.