General Congreve describes the truce to his wife (Image: courtesy of Staffordshire County Council Archives)

Christmas Truce: British general wrote of 'extraordinary state of affairs' at the front

Posted on centenarynews.com on 05 December 2014
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A rare account of the Christmas truce has come to light in a newly discovered letter written by a British commander on Christmas Day 1914.

General Sir Walter Congreve told his wife that he found an "extraordinary state of affairs'' when he took presents to the trenches near Neuve Chapelle, in Northern France, during the First World War.

He wrote of soldiers sharing cigars, singing songs and walking about together in no-man's land after the Germans had called for a day's truce: "Officers as well as men were out & the German Colonel himself was talking to one of our Captains."

But the letter, uncovered in the UK by Staffordshire County Council archivists, also makes clear that it was not all quiet on the Western Front.

Cigar

One soldier spoke of having 'smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German Army….they say he's killed more of our men than any other…but I know now where he shoots from & I hope we down him tomorrow.'

General Congreve agrees, going on to note: "next door the 2 battalions opposite each other were shooting away all day & so I hear it was further north, 1st R.B. playing football with the Germans opposite them – next Regiments shooting each other."

And he avoided fraternisation himself, for fear of the Germans not being able to resist a shot at a general. Sir Walter Congreve was a distinguished officer, who'd won the Victoria Cross during the Boer War in South Africa.      German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment with men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (© IWM HU 35801)

General Congreve's letter was donated to Staffordshire's Archives Service by members of his family. It goes display from today (December 5th 2014) at the Records Office, Eastgate Street, Stafford.

Anthony Richards, Head of Documents and Sound at the Imperial War Museum, said: “There are various accounts of the Christmas Truce story and this is a particularly interesting addition, with Congreve’s description broadly matching those incidents known to have occurred at that time, with both sides fraternising in No Man's Land between the trenches."

Councillor Ben Adams, Cabinet Member responsible for Archives at Staffordshire County Council, describes the discovery as a 'real gem.'

“The fact that the letter has come to light in the year we commemorate the centenary of the Great War makes its existence even more special. We are incredibly proud to be the custodian of such a valuable document which we will protect and preserve so it can be shared and enjoyed by generations for years to come.”

More details, including a full transcript of the letter, can be found on the Staffordshire Great War website

You can also listen to a reading of the letter by Staffordshire’s Poet Laureate, Gary Longden, here.  Follow on Twitter using #christmastruce.

Its publication comes as commemorations are starting in the UK and Belgium to mark the 100th anniversary of the Christmas truce.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, will be unveiling a new memorial as part of Football Remembers at the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield in Staffordshire, on December 12th 2014.

Source: Staffordshire County Council

Images courtesy of Staffordshire County Council Archives (letter); Imperial War Museum (Christmas truce photo) © IWM HU 35801

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News

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