World War One

Uncovered letter reveals first-hand account of the Christmas day truce in the trenches 100 years ago

The discovery of a remarkable letter adds colour to the Christmas Day Truce of 1914. Read Sir Walter’s first-hand account of Christmas day in the trenches 100 years ago.

World War One

This 25 December marks 100 years since the Christmas Day truce of World War One. Earlier this month archivists uncovered a letter written by British General Sir Walter Congreve VC which gives an immediate account of troops from both sides playing a game of footy and sharing cigars in the midst of the war.

“I found an extraordinary state of affairs –” wrote Sir Walter, “this am a German shouted out that they wanted a day’s truce and would one come out if he did.

“So very cautiously one of our men lifted himself above the parapet and saw a German doing the same. Both got out then more and finally all day long in that particular place they have been walking about together all day giving each other cigars and singing songs.”

But the general who led the Rifles Brigade was reluctant to witness the truce for himself out of fear of being shot. “I was invited to go and see the Germans myself but refrained as I thought they might not be able to resist a general,” he wrote.

He was born in Chatham, Kent and was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy in 1899 during the Second Boer War. He survived the Great War despite losing his left hand.

The letter continues: “My informant, one of the men, said he had had a fine day of it and had smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army, then not more than 18. They say he’s killed more of our men than any other 12 together but I know now where he shoots from and I hope we down him tomorrow,” wrote Sir Walter.

The letter was discovered during research to mark the WWI centenary. The letter was originally sent to Sir Walter’s wife and was donated to Staffordshire’s archive service in the 1970s.

The letter is on public display at Stafford’s Records Office.