The sworn enemies who shook hands at Christmas

The album was put together to remember 2nd Lt John Gordon Scott of the Black Watch  killed in action in May 1915.
The album was put together to remember 2nd Lt John Gordon Scott of the Black Watch killed in action in May 1915.
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A letter describing the historic truce on the Western Front on Christmas Day in 1914 has been revealed for the first time by the Royal Mail.

Captain AD Chater, of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, describes the moment when soldiers on both sides of the First World War left the trenches and met in no man’s land before playing a historic football match.

The letter, recently passed to the Royal Mail by a relative of Capt Chater, reads: “Dearest Mother,

“I am writing this in the trenches in my “dug-out” – with a wood fire going and plenty of straw it is rather cosy, although it is freezing hard and real Christmas weather.

“I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen.

“About 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.

“We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas...”

Capt Chater also describes another meeting in no-man’s land, writing: “We had another parley with the Germans in the middle.

“We exchanged cigarettes and autographs, and some more people took photos. I don’t know how long it will go on for – I believe it was supposed to stop yesterday, but we can hear no firing going on along the front today except a little distant shelling. We are, at any rate, having another truce on New Year’s Day, as the Germans want to see how the photos come out!”

Earlier this year, Royal Mail announced a five-year programme of remembrance for the First World War.

The company launched a series of special stamps to commemorate the war that will be issued from 2014 to 2018.

The first set of six stamps were issued at the end of July and featured striking imagery of memorials, artefacts and portraits of the beginning of the conflict, as well as newly commissioned artwork.

In December 1914, a special sorting office, called the Home Depot, was built to deal with mail to the troops. With 2,500 employees, mostly female, the depot processed letters and parcels bound for the troops.

“At its peak 12 million letters and one million parcels were passing through the depot each week.

Earlier this month a memorial dedicated to the soldiers who took part in the 1914 Christmas Truce was unveiled by its 10-year-old designer and the Duke of Cambridge.

Schoolboy Spencer Turner, who won a national competition to design the tribute, was praised by the Duke for “capturing the very essence” of the troops who left their trenches to play football during the First World War.

The bronze memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire depicts a football encasing a handshake between a German soldier and a member of an English regiment in no man’s land.

Addressing a memorial service attended by FA chairman Greg Dyke and England manager Roy Hodgson, William described the work of remembrance as “stunning”.