With Armistice Day just past, and Christmas Day to look forward to, this week I though I'd look at the often-talked-about Christmas truce between British and German soldiers during the First World War.

Until recently, I never knew it involved Scottish regiments.

It appears that the ceasefire was proposed by Pope Benedict XV who, as the first Christmas of World War I approached, pleaded with the leaders of the warring nations "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."

This prompted the commander of the British Second Corps, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, to say that a friendly ceasefire on Christmas Day would pose “the greatest danger” to the morale of soldiers and told Divisional Commanders to explicitly prohibit any “friendly intercourse with the enemy.”

He warned: “Troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a ‘live and let live’ theory of life.”

Even so, by some accounts two-thirds, about 100,000 soldiers, of German, British, Belgian and French troops all along the Western Front, laid down their arms on Christmas Day 1914. Christmas carols were sung, gifts exchanged and even a football match took place.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Troops of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders and German soldiers on Christmas Day at the Rue de Quesnes sector of the Western FrontTroops of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders and German soldiers on Christmas Day at the Rue de Quesnes sector of the Western Front (Image: Contributed)

The only known photo of the incident shows members of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders and German soldiers on Christmas Day at the Rue de Quesnes sector of the Front.

Further along the line, as the Germans lit candles in their trenches and began to sing Christmas carols, Private Albert Moren of the Second Queen’s Regiment wrote a letter home.

He told his family: “It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white everywhere.

"About seven or eight in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were these lights – I don’t know what they were. And then they sang ‘Silent Night’ – ‘Stille Nacht’. 

"I shall never forget it; it was one of the highlights of my life. What a beautiful tune.”

At the Rue de Quesnes, a private in the Seaforth Highlanders wrote a letter home describing what had happened.

He wrote: “There was an incident happened here on Christmas Day which I suppose the public will hardly give credit to.

"A few Germans who are entrenched only a few hundred yards from us were seen leaving their lines and approaching in our direction. They were fired at, and retired, but after the fire had ceased again appeared, waving parcels, and making demonstrations of friendship.

"A few of us advanced and met them half-way, where the party was swelled in a few minutes by dozens of men from both trenches.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

"We were then entertained to a "sing-song" and exchange of cigarettes (curious to relate, the Germans' ones were all English made) and greetings.”

Lance-Corporal James Davidson, 2nd Gordon Highlanders, wrote home; “About 12 o'clock we welcomed in Christmas with a volley. The enemy were singing, and were also happy.

"But we were happier about daybreak. We could see the Germans coming out to greet us and wish us a merry Christmas. Leaving our trenches, we went out to meet them, shook hands, and exchanged keepsakes. It was not a bit like war.

"After that we buried the dead, and still continued on friendly terms with the Germans. Our minister conducted a burial service on our right.

"I think it is the first time in the annals of our history that such a thing has happened. I can assure you I shall never forget Christmas Day and Christmas Eve as long as I live.”

On the German side, Lieutenant Johannes Niemann of the 133rd Saxon Infantry Regiment wrote: “Suddenly a Tommy came with a football, kicking already and making fun, and then began a football match.

"We marked the goals with our caps. Teams were quickly established for a match on the frozen mud, and the Fritzes beat the Tommies 3-2.”

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

One British soldier, Murdoch M. Wood, later said; “I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since: that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.”

Along with our military leaders, Adolf Hitler, then a Corporal of the 16th Bavarians, was infuriated by the event, saying; “Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honour?”

The war, which began on July 28, 1914 and was due to “be all over by Christmas”, didn’t finish until what is now Armistice Day - November 11 - in 1918. It was one of the deadliest global conflicts in our history and resulted in the death of between nine and 15 million people.

Unfortunately, just 21 years later, the Second World War, began resulting in the death of between 70-85 million people.

Let’s hope we never see the likes of this again, but take heart in the knowledge that everyone, even soldiers, want peace, especially at Christmas.

Until next time, stay safe.