The Christmas truce of 1914 has become a legendary halt in hostilities in what was a war of attrition, killing millions and lasting four and a half years. Revd. Edward Henry Lisle Reeve, of Stondon Massey, kept notes for a parish history (now preserved in the Essex Record Office). He gives this account of Christmas Day 1914 on the Western Front.
28th January 1915
“When travelling by train to London from Ongar on Jan 25th I had for a fellow passenger for part of the way a Lancashire man who had returned wounded and frost-bitten from the front, and was now sufficiently convalescent to be going for a short spell to his native county before returning to France.
“His first-hand report of the conditions of things abroad was very interesting. He had often been for days together standing in water in the trenches, and the plight of the soldiers in the cold, wet, and filth was, he said indescribable. The Germans were in as bad or worse plight. During an interval on Christmas-day some of the enemy had approached our trenches and joined in conversation with our men. One German soldier had given his cigarettes and offered him brandy.
“In reply to the German invitation to drink with him the British soldier declined, until by way of assuring him took a pull himself at the flask he was offering! Lancashire shyness was then overcome, and the soldier accepted a draught of the “Cognac” for such it proved to be. The time was soon over for these pleasantries, and the two dropped back again into their several positions, having apparently no special desire to kill one another, save at the call of duty! I wished my fellow passenger a safe return to England at the close of war.”