Christmas celebrations on the Western Front:

Joshua Kelsall’s story, provided by his great nephew Peter Adamson

‘There was very little firing from the enemy all day on Christmas Eve. When night fell we soon found out why. Their trench was suddenly illuminated for miles by Chinese lanterns and braziers which they placed on top. Our Xmas festivities there and then commenced.

Invitations were soon flying across the “debatable ground” to help in the shifting of good things from home. ​After a while one of the enemy summoned up courage and came across the way with a searchlight playing on him the while. One of D Company went out to meet him. They shook hands between the two lines to the accompaniment of cheers, songs and “War Whoops” from a Battalion on our left – a sight seen once in a life time. Makes a lump come sudden in a man’s throat. Thus emboldened both sides came out in the open, now lit up by several search lights, a weird sight.

There was little sleep as the carol singers of both sides made the most awful din. The Germans had good voices. They seem to be trained choristers. One of their chaps gave us “For Old Times Sake” and didn’t we join the chorus! Another, “Down South in Dixie”, both accompanied by a splendid cornet player. After breakfast on Christmas morning parties of men went out to help the Germans bury their dead. We challenged them to a game of football. Their officers would not consent. They gave us cigars and picture postcards. We gave them a few tins of Bully, Cigarettes and other things as souvenirs. Quite a lot of them speak very good English.

One officer of ours told a German officer about the bombardment of Hartlepool and Scarborough. He could hardly believe it until our chaps sent his servant for newspapers. Some of these chaps had the idea that they had only the British to beat, that Paris was in their hands, that the Russian Army was a thing of the past and Zeppelins had destroyed half of London. “We heard of nothing but victories” said a Sergeant Major in my hearing. We let them know the facts. They made us an offer, said they would not shoot if we refrained from firing.

We kept the agreement till they broke it by potting one of our chaps in the leg three days afterwards.”

Extract from the diary of First World War soldier, Joshua Kelsall in December 1914; provided by his great nephew, Peter Adamson. Joshua survived the war, but the experience took its toll, suffering with bronchitis for the rest of his life. He died in 1936 at the age of 54.