Selfies, Twitter, Facebook and texting were of course not in the language of anyone living at the beginning of First World War so it’s unsurprising that the first mention of the famous Christmas truces between British and German soldiers comes in the January 12, 1915, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.
The story originates from a Second Lieutenant attached to the Lancs Fusiliers who says in a letter: “On Christmas morning we received orders not to shoot unless it was absolutely necessary.
“This injunction seemed to ‘wireless’ itself across to the Germans as they stopped sniping altogether and an unearthly stillness reigned over the scene.”
Before long ‘the entire personnel of the rival trenches was standing on their respective parapets waving and shouting to each other’.
The soldier then writes: “It was not war but it was certainly magnificent.”
Before long both sides were wandering into No Man’s Land. “I went out myself after a time with a copy of Punch which I presented to a dingy Saxon in exchange for a small packet of excellent cigars and cigarettes.
“As I walked back slowly to our own trenches I thought of Mr Asquith’s sentence about not sheathing the sword until the enemy be finally crushed.
“It is all very well for Englishmen living comfortably at home to talk in flowing periods, but when you are out here you begin to realise that sustained hatred is impossible.”
Although there is no mention of any men from the Market Harborough area involved in the truce there is a story about a football match near the front involving ‘A’ Squadron of the Leicestershire Yeomanry who beat ‘D’ Squadron of the 2nd Life Guards 6-0 with prominent Market Harborough full back Sgt Jack Garner on the victorious team.
But it wasn’t all cheering news. The Advertiser reports that Trooper Fred Sumner of Desborough was killed by a sniper’s bullet as he was digging trenches. His parents were sent a letter by Lieut Wartnaby of Clipston who said he was buried by his comrades ‘in a little garden near our billets and we sang two verses of the hymn Rock of Ages’.
And another view of the kind of ‘hell’ the soldiers face is recounted in a letter to friends in Market Harborough by an unnamed artilleryman who wrote: “I went up to the trenches the other day when they were being relieved. I never saw such sights as they were. The trenches are full of water and the men were one mass of mud from head to foot. How they stick it I don’t know.”
There are no photographs in this edition of the Advertiser but there is a cartoon of two hearty soldiers enjoying a smoke. This is to accompany a new campaign to encourage readers to send sixpence for a packet of cigarettes and tobacco to be sent to a soldier at the Front with the sender’s name and address attached to every packet.
- Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.
- My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.