It remains an extraordinary testimony to the power of the Gospel that, during such a terrible time of World War, soldiers of so many armies, on opposite sides, could cease fighting, come out of their trenches and embrace their enemies in honour of the Prince of Peace
On Christmas Eve 1914, a spontaneous cease-fire
was observed across the whole of the Western Front.
The Christmas Truce of the First World War,
An extraordinary event in the history of warfare,
initially received widespread media coverage
in the New York Times of 31 December 1914,
followed by British newspapers, such as the Mirror, The Illustrated
London News and the Times, which printed front page photographs of
British and German troops mingling and singing Christmas carols.
The French government was the first to severely censor any reports
on what they called "fraternisation with the enemy."
The Christmas Truce is now openly acknowledged at the Imperial War
Museum in London with photographs of German and British troops
celebrating Christmas together.
Political pressure was brought to bear to censor all reports
of the event from mainstream history books for decades.
For years this extraordinary
event was known only by word
of mouth from participants.
The damage caused by Christmas Truce to propaganda campaigns to
demonise the enemy was regarded as a serious threat to the war.
It has taken decades to unearth the details of the fascinating events
surrounding Christmas 1914.
In the first five months of the Great War,
over a million Europeans
had already been killed in action,
The Body of Miss Botha of Ladybrand. 18 years old when she died in Bloemfontien.
It was her wish that the Vierkleur be draped around her chest after her death.
Gysbert Johannes Vermeulen of Dewetsdorp died at the age of twelve
in Bloemfontein Concentration Camp
Bloemfontein Concentration Camp - Lizzie van Zyl holding the porcelain doll
given her by Emily Hobhouse
The body of Japie van den Berg outside the tent where he
died, Bloemfontein Concentration Camp
In 1914, Emily Hobhouse authored the Open Christmas Letter
calling for peace.
101 British women signed Emily's Open Christmas Letter which was
endorsed by 155 prominent German and Austrian women in response.
Under the heading:
"On Earth Peace,
Goodwill towards Men",
Emily Hobhouse wrote:
"Sisters: The Christmas message
sounds like mockery to a world
at war, but those of us who
wished, and still wish, for peace,
may surely offer a solemn
greeting to such of you
who feel as we do."
She mentioned that
"as in South Africa during the
Anglo Boer War (1899-1902),
the brunt of modern war falls
upon non-combatants, and
the conscience of the world
cannot bear the sight."
"Is it not our mission
to preserve life?
Do not humanity
and common sense alike
prompt us to join hands
with the women…
and urge our rulers
to stave off further
May Christmas hasten that day…"
The German Mothers responded: "To our English Sisters, sisters of the
same race, our warm and heartfelt thanks for Christmas greetings…
women of the belligerent countries, with all faithfulness,
devotion, and love to their country, can go beyond it and maintain true
solidarity with the women of other belligerent nations,
that really civilised women never lose their humanity…"
Emily Hobhouse also oversaw the raising of funds and shipping of food
to the women and children of Germany and Austria
who were suffering as a result of the British Naval blockade.
Through her efforts thousands of women and children
starving in Germany and Austria,
were fed by the support she was able to channel to them.
Numerous ministers were proclaiming from the pulpit: "That the guns
may fall silent at least upon the night when the Angels sang."
Although these messages
were officially rebuffed,
in the heavily censored
media, many of the
soldiers in the frontlines
seemed to share these
From the first week of December,
informal truces were observed by soldiers on the frontline.
In a letter dated 7 December 1914, Charles De Gaulle expressed his
dismay at fraternisation with the enemy, where French and German
troops had exchanged newspapers , recovered their dead
and organised burial parties in no-mans-land.
French General d'Urbal, expressed alarm over soldiers staying too long
in the same sector becoming friendly with their enemies,
to the extent that they were conducting conversations between the
lines and even visiting one another's trenches!
After heavy rains near Ypres, where the Germans held the high ground
and the British the lower ground, English troops came out of their
flooded trenches in full view of the Germans who expressed their
sympathy and did not open fire on their soaked and vulnerable enemy.
The 2nd Essex Regiment recorded on 11 December, in their War Diary,
that their officers and men met the German Saxon Korp half way
between the trenches and exchanged food, cigarettes, chocolates and
On Christmas Eve German soldiers began decorating their trenches
with Christmas trees and candles.
The Christmas Truce began in the region of Ypres, in Belgium,
where the Germans were enthusiastically singing Christmas carols
in their trenches.
When British soldiers
joined in singing Silent Night
and then responded with carols
of their own,
the two sides began shouting
to each other.
Shortly after that soldiers spontaneously came out of their trenches
and walked across no-mans-land to greet one another,
exchange gifts and souvenirs.
This truce spread rapidly across the entire Western Front
with over 100,000 German and British troops involved
in this unofficial cessation of fighting.
Soon Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, Belgian and French troops
joined in the Christmas celebrations
in the frozen strip of no-man's-land.
Respectful burial services were conducted by the combatants for the
dead between their lines.
Soldiers swopped ration packs , wine, pies, chocolates and souvenirs,
such as buttons, badges and hats.
The next day football matches were played between the lines.
British officer Robert Greys wrote of the football match between the
133 Saxon Regiment and his Scottish troops.
The Germans won 3 - 2.
The Glasgow News on 2 January, reported
that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders won their match 4-1.
Royal Field Artillery Lt. Albert Wynn, wrote of their soccer match
against the Hanoverians, near Ypres, on Christmas Day.
Commanders threatened repercussions for lack of discipline and
numerous officers ordered their artillery to open fire on the
fraternising troops in no-mans-land.
On none of these occasions did the artillery obey orders.
There are numerous complaints
on record by officers shocked at
the total breakdown of discipline
as men point blank refused orders
to open fire on their own soldiers,
mingling with the enemy,
on Christmas Day.
General Sir Horace
the British II Corp,
Horace Smith-Dorrien was one of the very few British survivors
of the battle of Isandlwana, during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.
General Sir Horace
issued orders forbidding
fraternisation with the enemy
and complained that his orders
by the soldiers!
Richard Schirrmann was so impressed by the comraderie experienced
between his German regiment and French soldiers during the
even exchanging addresses with one another, that he went on to
found the Youth Hostel Association in 1919, to provide meeting places
where young men of all countries could get to know one another.
There was also a general observances of a Christmas Truce
on the Eastern Front
where German, Austrian Hungarian, and Russian commanders ordered
cease-fires for the duration of Christmas.
Numerous French and British officers were court martialled
for participating in this fraternisation with the enemy.
Whole units had to be pulled back from the front and sent to other
fronts, when they displayed reluctance to fire on "enemy"
that they had celebrated Christmas with.
Numerous artillery units began to fire only at precise locations,
at pre-arranged times, to avoid causing casualties.
Many instances of soldiers firing high,
and ineffectually, were reported.
An Easter Sunday Truce was attempted by German units in
1915, but they were suppressed by British artillery fire.
In November 1915 a Saxon unit briefly fraternised with a
Liverpool Battalion and conducted burial services together.
1915, there were
directed by Allied
to forestall any
repeat of the
But even the multiple artillery barrages ordered along the entire
frontline, throughout Christmas Day by the British, were not
completely effective and a number of truces were observed
on the Western Front, Christmas 1915.
On some sections of the Western Front, carols and gifts were
exchanged between German and British troops
and at least one football match, with about 50 soldiers on each side
was recorded in 1915.
Sir Ian Colquhoun of the Scots Guards was court-martialed for defying
orders by maintaining a short truce to bury the dead between the
lines, on Christmas Day 1915. Because he was related to British Prime
Minister H.H. Asquith, this punishment was commuted.
German attempts to observe Christmas Truces in December 1916 and
1917 were rebuffed by British Artillery barrages.
Recently evidence has come to light of a successful Christmas Truce in
1916, between German and Canadian soldiers near Vimy Ridge, where
they exchange Christmas greetings and presents. The Canadians and
Germans visited one another's lines on 25 December 1916.
Numerous famous authors
such as C.S. Lewis
(of the Narnia series),
fought on the
Authors at War
J.R.R. Tolkien (who was born in Bloemfontein),
who wrote Lord of the Rings, fought on the Western Front.
A.A. Milne (creator of Winnie the Pooh), fought on the Western Front.
A Christmas Truce Memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, in France, on
11 November 2008, on the spot where 25 December 1914,
the Royal Welsh Fusiliers played football with the German 371
Battalion. The Germans won 2-1.
The 2005 French film,
the Christmas Truce of 1914
through the eyes of
French, Scottish and German
on the Western Front.
The pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze.
He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage.
But his co-pilot stared at the same frightening scene.
"This is a nightmare," the co-pilot said.
Revenge, not honour, is what drove 2nd Lt. Franz Stigler to jump into his
fighter that chilly December day in 1943. Stigler was not just any fighter
pilot. He was an Ace. One more kill and he would win The Knight's Cross,
German's highest award for Valour.
Yet Stigler was driven by something deeper than glory. His older brother,
August, was a fellow Luftwaffe pilot who had been killed earlier in the
war. American pilots had killed Stigler's comrades and were bombing his
August alongside his Ju-88 bomber in France, summer 1940
Stigler had already shot down 2 B-17s that day & was refueling &
re-loading his guns, standing near his fighter on a German airbase
when he heard a bomber's engine. Looking up,
he saw a B-17 flying so low it looked like it was going to land.
As the bomber disappeared from view behind some trees,
Stigler saluted a ground crewman and took off in pursuit.
In His Sights
As Stigler's fighter rose to meet the bomber, he manoeuvred to attack
from behind. He climbed behind the bomber, squinted into his gun sight
and placed his hand on the trigger.
He was about to fire when he hesitated. Stigler was baffled.
No one in the bomber fired at him.
He looked closer at the tail gunner. He was still, his white fleece collar
soaked with blood. Stigler craned his neck to examine the rest of the
Its skin had been peeled away by shells, its guns knocked out.
He could see men huddled inside the plane tending the wounds
of other crewmen.
Looking Into the Eyes of His Enemy
Then he nudged his plane alongside the bomber's wings and locked eyes
with the pilot whose eyes were wide with shock and horror.
Stigler pressed his hand over the cross he kept in his flight jacket.
He prayed for a moment and then eased his index finger off the trigger.
He could not shoot.
It would be dishonourable to shoot at a crippled enemy aircraft,
even if it was a bomber.
A Knight of the Air
Stigler was not only motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a
code of honour. He could trace his family's ancestry to knights in 16th
century Europe. He had once studied Theology.
Stigler recalled the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him:
"You follow the rules of war for you -- not your enemy.
You fight by rules to keep your humanity."
Change of Mission
Alone with the crippled bomber, Stigler changed his mission.
He nodded at the American pilot and began flying in formation
so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground would not
shoot down the slow-moving bomber.
Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look
at the American pilot. Then he saluted him, peeled his fighter away and
returned to Germany.
"Good luck," Stigler said as he parted. "You are in God's hands."
Mercy For An Enemy
Stigler took pity on his enemy when he locked eyes with Brown.
As he watched the German ME-109 fighter peel away that December
day, 2nd Lt. Charles Brown wasn't thinking of the philosophical
connection between enemies. He was thinking of survival.
He flew back to his base in England and landed with barely any fuel left.
After his bomber came to a stop, he leaned back in his chair
and put a hand over a pocket Bible he kept in his flight jacket.
Then he sat in silence.
Brown's commanding officer strictly forbad him to ever talk about the
incident. It was considered dangerous for morale.
Brown flew more missions
before the war ended.
He got married, had two
supervised foreign aid for the
U.S. State Department during
the Vietnam War and
eventually retired to Florida.
Late in life, though, the encounter with the German pilot began to gnaw
at him. He started having nightmares, but in his dream there would be
no act of mercy. He would awaken just before his bomber crashed.
Brown took on a new mission. He had to find that German pilot.
Who was he?
Why did he save my life?
At JV-44s alert shack, Steinhoff takes a call from the orphanage. Behind him (L to R)
are the Count, Hohagen, and Luetzow.
JV-44's staff April 1945. Franz wearing sunglasses, Hohagen shields his eyes.
Also commanders from the KG-51 bomber unit (far left) and the jet training wing at
Reunion of Enemies
On January 18, 1990, Brown received a letter. He opened it and read: He
had scoured military archives in the U.S. and England.
He had attended a pilots' reunion and shared his story.
He finally placed an ad in a German newsletter for former Luftwaffe
pilots, retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the pilot.
All these years I wondered
what happened to the B-17,
did she make it or not?"
It was Stigler. He had left
Germany after the war and
moved to Vancouver,
British Columbia, in 1953.
He became a prosperous
Now retired, Stigler told Brown that he would be in Florida come
summer and "it sure would be nice to talk about our encounter."
Brown was so excited, though, that he couldn't wait to see Stigler. He
called directory assistance for Vancouver and asked whether there was a
number for a Franz Stigler. He dialled the number, and Stigler picked up.
"My God, it's you!"
Brown shouted as tears ran
down his cheeks.
Brown had to do more. He wrote a letter to Stigler in which he said: "To
say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU on behalf of my surviving
crewmembers and their families appears totally inadequate."
The two pilots would meet again,
but this time in the lobby of a Florida hotel.
One of Brown's friends was there to record the summer reunion.
Both men looked like retired businessmen: they were plump, sporting
neat ties and formal shirts. They talked about their encounter
in a light, jovial tone.
The mood then changed. Someone asked Stigler what he thought about
Brown. Stigler sighed and his square jaw tightened. He began to fight
back tears before he said in heavily accented English:
"I love you, Charlie."
Stigler had lost his brother, his friends and his country.
He was virtually exiled by his countrymen after the war.
There were 28,000 pilots who fought for the German air force.
Only 1,200 survived, Makos says.
Brown and Stigler became friends. They would take fishing trips
together. They would fly cross-country to each other homes and take
road trips together to share their story at schools and veterans'
reunions. Their wives, Jackie Brown and Hiya Stigler, became friends.
Brown's daughter says her father would worry about Stigler's health and
constantly check in on him.
"It wasn't just for show," she says. "They really did feel for each other.
They talked about once a week."
As his friendship with Stigler deepened, something else happened to
her father, Warner says: "The nightmares went away."
Brown had written a letter of thanks to Stigler, but one day, he showed
the extent of his gratitude.
He organized a reunion of his surviving crew members, along with their
extended families. He invited Stigler as a guest of honour.
During the reunion, a video
was played showing all the
faces of the people that now
-- children, grandchildren,
because of Stigler's act of
chivalry. Stigler watched the
film from his seat of honour.
"Everybody was crying, not just him," Warner says.
Stigler and Brown died within months of each other in 2008.
Stigler was 92, and Brown was 87.
They had started off as enemies, became friends, and then much more.
Makos discovered what that was by
accident while spending a night at
He was poking through Brown's
library when he came across a book
on German fighter jets.
Stigler had given the book to
Brown. Both were country boys
who loved to read about planes.
Makos opened the book and saw an inscription Stigler had written to
"In 1940, I lost my only brother as a night fighter. On the 20th of
December, 4 days before Christmas, I had the chance to save a B-17
from her destruction, a plane so badly damaged it was a wonder that
she was still flying.
"The pilot, Charlie Brown, is for me, as precious as my brother was.
It remains an extraordinary
testimony to the power of
the Gospel that, during such
a terrible time of world war,
soldiers of so many armies,
on opposite sides, could
cease fighting, come out of
their trenches and embrace
their enemies, in honour of
the Prince of Peace.
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is
given; and the Government will be upon His
shoulder. And His Name will be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the
increase of His Government and peace there
will be no end…" Isaiah 9:6-7
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74
Cape Town, South Africa
Tel: (021) 689-4480
Fax: (021) 685-5884