A fragile, pencil-written letter, which came into the museum collection in 2022, hints at a famous truce.
In it, Yorkshire Regiment soldier, Joseph Cole talks about the quality of the cake he’s received and asks after the health of his granny.
Then there’s a casual,
“Well dear Uncle you will think it funny but I have shook hands and had a cigar from the enemy. At our part of the line we have had an armistice, we met the Germans half way between our trenches and theirs, shook hands and talked to them, they seem alright.”
Frustratingly for us, the letter is undated.
The full transcript of the letter reads:
No 8389 C Coy 2nd Yorkshire Regt 7 Division British Expeditionary Force.
(note at top left) Tell Sarah + Luna I will bring them a souvenir when the war is over from the Allemands.
(main body of letter) Dear Uncle Jimy, Have received your second parcel, cake was good I don’t know which was best. I am sorry to hear that Granny is poorly, I hope she will soon be well again, I suppose she will be worrying herself about us all. Well dear Uncle you will think it funny but I have shook hands and had a cigar from the enemy. At our part of the line we have had an armistice, we met the Germans half way between our trenches and theirs, shook hands and talked to them, they seem alright. I have no more time so will close with my sincere thanks for your kindness. Give my love to Granny + Grandad and relatives, from your affectionate nephew, Joe.
The 2nd Battalion War Diary for the Christmas period 1914 makes no mention of any kind of fraternisation with the enemy, but that’s not particularly surprising from an official document. However, in his history of the regiment during the First World War, Colonel Wylly quotes:
“Christmas caused strange happenings in the trenches. The Germans illuminated their trenches and asked for an armistice to bury some of their dead. This extended to a mutual peace which lasted over the New Year. ‘If you do not shoot, we will not’ was the arrangement. So, we strolled about our respective entrenchments and were glad of the freedom to improve them and our dug-outs; and really it was a blessing for us as the weather was the worst we have had. Some of us had interviews with the Germans to arrange this mutual understanding, and the men exchanged cigarettes and cigars and other souvenirs. But this private arrangement could not last and besides was rather disconcerting; war is again being waged and the potting at each other’s heads has once more begun.”
Unfortunately, Wylly does not attribute the source of this quote, but the contents of Joseph Cole’s letter correspond nicely with Wylly’s version.