How Christmas Truce led to court martial

Wed Dec 24, 2014 7:45am EST
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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - "All the way down our lines ... Scots and Huns were fraternizing in the most genuine possible manner," Lieutenant Edward Hulse wrote to his mother after Christmas 1914. "If I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked."

The centenary of that moment in World War One is now being celebrated as a triumph of shared humanity over the butchery that engulfed Europe, a day when troops along the Flanders front met after four months killing each other to sing carols, exchange gifts and play football in No Man's Land.

Less well known is that some British soldiers would later face punishment for an hour of friendship with their enemy.

Some of those fortunate survivors of 1914 were to pass three more Christmases in the trenches, observing no more broad truces as horrors fostered hatreds, but also because generals took pains to stamp out what they feared as a threat to "fighting spirit".

In one largely forgotten incident, a repeat of that first famous ceasefire the following year saw one of Hulse's fellow officers in the Scots Guards put on trial at a court martial.

Unlike Hulse, killed at 25 in March 1915, Captain Iain Colquhoun survived the war and recorded how he faced military punishment for again exchanging Christmas cigars with his German foe, and allowing both sides to bury their many dead.

"The Major-General (Lord Cavan) is furious about it," Colquhoun wrote on Boxing Day 1915. His commander wanted to know why specific orders had been disobeyed that there should be no repeat of the 1914 camaraderie that so shook the general staff.


A resin sculpture, called "All Together Now", by artist Andrew Edwards, and depicting the Christmas Day football match between German and British soldiers fighting on the front line in World War One in 1914, is seen after being unveiled in the remains of St Luke's Church in Liverpool, northern England in this December 15, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Files