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Catalogue code: AV030
Christmas truce in the trenches
It was a general’s worst nightmare but a dream come true for the rank and file dodging death in the trenches. On Christmas Day in 1914, British and German troops climbed from their dugouts and met as friends in no man’s land. They shook hands, shared beer, swapped rations, played football. For a small moment, history was suspended and the killing ceased.
These brief celebrations of peace are marked by Royal Mail’s extraordinary Christmas Truce Commemorative Sheet, aptly released on Remembrance Day, 11 November. The Sheet features the now-classic Poppy definitive of 2010 and ten labels with historic photographs showing different aspects of the Truce.
Inside the Commemorative Sheet pack is a facsimile of a letter written by Second Lieutenant Alfred Dougan Chater of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, with his first-hand account of the Christmas Truce on his sector of the front. On the backing card Imperial War Museum Great War expert James Taylor details the various sites of the ceasefires represented on each label. (As much as two-thirds of the 27-mile stretch of the Western Front held by the British declared a truce for Christmas.)
On 25 December near Fromelles in France, for example, British and German soldiers held a joint burial service for comrades killed in a night assault the week before. Carols were sung. Cap badges and uniform buttons were swapped. The Germans handed sausage and schnapps to the British and were given British bully beef, cigarettes and tea. But the sanity could not last. The British and German high commands quickly banned any further fraternisation. The season of goodwill was all too brief. The world was at war again.
Christmas Truce Commemorative Sheet – Specifications
Number of stamps 10 x 1st Class Poppy Stamps
Stamp design hat-trick design
Sheet format Portrait A4
Stamp format/size Portrait 20mm x 24mm
Stamp printer International Security Printers
Print process Lithography
Perforation Die- cut simulated
Phosphor bars as appropriate
Gum Self- adhesive
Pack and sheet design True North
Pack and sheet printer Zenith Print and Packaging Ltd
Words James Taylor
Except those listed below, all images are © Imperial War Museums. Stamp sheet background: image of shooting match between rival trenches © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans; Sergeant Clement Barker, bnps.co.uk; 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Q 56214); British and German soldiers in no man’s land (HU 35801) – special thanks to Malcolm Drummond; burying the dead near Fromelles (Q 50720); Willow Trench, Rue de Bois (Q 56198); German troops and Northumberland Hussars soldiers (Q 50719); waterlogged trench (Q 49221), Christmas meal (Q 11729) and British and German soldiers on Christmas Day 1914 © Mirrorpix; London Rifle Brigade men and Saxon soldiers (Q 11745). Backing card: front cover of The Illustrated London News, 9 January 1915, iln.org.uk; British and German soldiers on Christmas Day 1914 (Q 11718), British and German soldiers in no man’s land (HU 35801), British and German officers in no man’s land (Q 50721) and shooting match between rival trenches © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans; 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Q 56214); burying the dead near Fromelles (Q 50720); facsimile of letter from Second Lieutenant Alfred Dougan Chater, 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, reproduced by permission of the family.