Each month staff at the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum look back to what the Norfolk Regiment was doing 100 years ago, and tells their story through objects from the museum’s collection. See previous blog posts here.
Back in January 2014 we had some special visitors to the Royal Norfolk Regimental galleries at Norwich Castle. The son and daughter of Sergeant Hoy, of the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, came to see a whistle which belonged to him and is on display.
Sergeant Hoy’s son and daughter could remember him playing the whistle for them as children. But what made the whistle really significant was that Hoy had played it from the trenches during the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914.
Hoy described the scene: “On Christmas morning 1914 I was in the trenches in France on the Ypres sector and I was playing some carols on my whistle, which I always carried with me. Suddenly a German called out, “Play ‘Home Sweet Home’ Tommy!” I started to play it and to my surprise a German who was near our trench produced a mouth organ and joined in with me. That started us and the Germans fraternising on top of the trench. Later a football was produced, and not a shot was fired that day.”
At some points of the Western Front, the German and British soldiers decided that they could not bear to continue fighting on their first Christmas in the trenches, and so declared an unofficial truce. There are stories of the soldiers singing carols, putting up Christmas trees and playing football. Men shared stories and family photographs. As this fraternisation was frowned upon, it was not recorded in official unit war diaries – so becoming mythologised.
However, many men fighting had no idea that others were having a merry Christmas. The 25th December was one of the worst days that month for fatalities on the Western Front. Sixty-nine British soldiers were either killed in action or died from wounds received on that day.
For those who got to enjoy it, the unofficial truce was short-lived. On Boxing Day shots were fired. Officers from both sides climbed onto the parapets, bowed, saluted and returned to the trenches. The war was to continue.