Newly shared war letters tell of Christmas truce exchanges in no man’s land

Frederick James Davies, a private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  Pic: Jane Oliver/PA Wire.
Frederick James Davies, a private in the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Pic: Jane Oliver/PA Wire.
0
Have your say

IT WAS a showing of humanity that belied the horrific circumstances of trench warfare, and even now, more than a century later, personal tales of the Christmas truce during the First World War are still being told anew.

One such story that has now come to light is that of soldier Frederick James Davies whose truce anecdote of offering gifts of “cigs, jam and corn beef” to Germans is being shared through a newly revealed collection of letters.

Private Frederick James Davies.   Pic: Jane Oliver/PA Wire.

Private Frederick James Davies. Pic: Jane Oliver/PA Wire.

Private Davies, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, described meeting German soldiers across no man’s land on Christmas Day 1914 in a letter he wrote to his mother from the front.

The letter is among a collection found by Mr Davies’s granddaughter Jane Oliver after the death of her mother, who was his eldest daughter, and recently donated to the Imperial War Museums.

Soldiers serving in northern France in 1914 left their trenches along some parts of the front line on the first Christmas Day of the First World War to meet the enemy in no man’s land and exchange gifts - with some famously even playing football.

Mr Davies, who was born in Lampeter, Wales, in 1886, and joined the army in 1908, told his mother they had a “good chat with the Germans on Xmas day”.

They were only fifty yards away from us in the trenches. They came out and we went to meet them. We shook hands with them. We gave them cigs, jam and corn beef.

An extract from Private Frederick James Davies’s letters to his mother, describing the Christmas truce during the First World War

He wrote: “They were only fifty yards away from us in the trenches. They came out and we went to meet them. We shook hands with them. We gave them cigs, jam and corn beef.

“They also gave us cigars but they didn’t have much food. I think they are hard up for it. They were fed up with the war.”

In the same letter he described how they had come out of trenches for a few days of rest, commenting that it was nice to sleep away from the wet, although they were still sleeping in their clothes.

“I am happy through it all. It’s no use being otherwise,” he said.

Elsewhere in the collection, the letters describe how “it’s a grand sight to see the shells bursting of a night, it’s just like fireworks” and discuss sending home pressed flowers to his mother.

Mr Davies was invalided out of the army in 1915 after a trench caved in on him, shattering his spine and leaving him permanently affected and unable to work properly. He married in 1919 and had three children.

His youngest daughter, Audrey Trenchard, now 86, said he had never spoken about his experiences in the war and “it was so interesting” to read the letters.

“We were so thrilled that Jane had managed to find them and keep them.

“I didn’t know about it, being the youngest I hadn’t heard any of this. It’s wonderful for me to find out about it,” she said.

Mrs Trenchard who was just 17 when her father died aged 61, said she thought it was very important for the stories from the First World War to be preserved and shared.

Her father’s letter was a reminder “that the Germans weren’t all bad, they were family men like ours were, it’s very important to keep this sort of thing alive”, she said.

The Christmas truce has become one of the most famous and mythologised events of the First World War.

It came about, the Imperial War Museums tell, when men of the British Expeditionary Force heard Germans troops in the trenches opposite them singing carols and patriotic songs, and saw lanterns and small fir trees along their trenches. Messages began to be shouted between the trenches.

The following day, British and German soldiers met in no man’s land and exchanged gifts, took photographs and some played impromptu games of football. They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts. After Boxing Day, meetings in no man’s land dwindled out.

The truce was not observed everywhere along the Western Front however and casualties did occur on Christmas Day.