Sunday, 5 December 2010

The SMRG Advent Calendar - Day 5

One of the most well-known events of the First World War was the "Christmas Truce" of 1914, when troops on both sides ceased fighting for a short time and shared some moments of cameraderie between the lines.

Today's advent calendar item is a look at one of these units, and what happened with them during this time.

The 5th Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) were in the trenches at this time. Their war diary at the time simply states:

“Very little sniping, almost an understanding not to fire but one man killed by a sniper.”

The War Diary is an official document, and it was probably considered a bad idea to tell the truth of what happened to the battalion at this time. However, after the war, in the battalions official history, the whole story came out:

"On Christmas Eve we could hear the Germans (XIXth Saxon Corps) celebrating the advent of Christmas by singing and merrymaking. We could also hear a brass band behind the houses in their lines playing Christmas carols. For roughly twenty-four hours, Christmas Eve to late afternoon on Christmas Day, they ceased firing at us, and we reciprocated. An attempt at fraternisation took place on Christmas day, “Jerry” leaving his trench unarmed. Certain souvenirs were exchanged and, if it had been left to the soldiery of both sides, the war would there and then have been declared a draw. But towards late afternoon on Christmas day a stray shot from our right front hit one of ours, No. 6179, Corp. W. S. Smith, No. 2 Company (from which he died next day). The Saxons opposite us were at pains to let us know that it was a Prussian who had fired the shot which killed Smith. This broke the spell, however, and the war was resumed after a tacit truce of twenty-four hours. This truce drew forth and army routine order reminding us that we “were in France to fight and not to fraternise with the enemy.”

Corporal Smith died on Boxing Day, 1914 and is buried in Armentieres. He is also commemorated on the memorial in his home town of Dunoon.

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