The Christmas Truce
Myth, Memory, and the First World War
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
In late December 1914, German and British soldiers on the western front initiated a series of impromptu, unofficial ceasefires. Enlisted men across No Man's Land abandoned their trenches and crossed enemy lines to sing carols, share food and cigarettes, and even play a little soccer. Collectively known as the Christmas Truce, these fleeting moments of peace occupy a mythical place in remembrances of World War I. Yet new accounts suggest that the heartwarming tale ingrained in the popular imagination bears little resemblance to the truth.
In this detailed study, Terri Blom Crocker provides the first comprehensive analysis of both scholarly and popular portrayals of the Christmas Truce from 1914 to present. From books by influential historians to the Oscar-nominated French film Joyeux Noel (2006), this new examination shows how a variety of works have both explored and enshrined this outbreak of peace amid overwhelming violence. The vast majority of these accounts depict the soldiers as acting in defiance of their superiors. Crocker, however, analyzes official accounts as well as private letters that reveal widespread support among officers for the détentes. Furthermore, she finds that truce participants describe the temporary ceasefires not as rebellions by disaffected troops but as acts of humanity and survival by professional soldiers deeply committed to their respective causes.
The Christmas Truce studies these ceasefires within the wider war, demonstrating how generations of scholars have promoted interpretations that ignored the nuanced perspectives of the many soldiers who fought. Crocker's groundbreaking, meticulously researched work challenges conventional analyses and sheds new light on the history and popular mythology of the War to End All Wars.
"A sharp look at the so-called 'Christmas truce' of 1914, discovering that distortion has colored many accounts of it -- and of World War I itself.... Crocker has created a work perhaps powerful enough to alter the conventional narrative of the incident. She destroys a number of misconceptions.... A storm of debate will no doubt ensue.... the discoveries may be revolutionary in World War I historiography." -- KIRKUS
"Crocker's book will become essential reading for anyone who wishes to know how the First World War came to be understood as that 'exercise in futility' we have come to accept without question today. It is a sober corrective and a judicious revelation of how and why the myths surrounding this war have become so hard to dislodge." -- Nicoletta F. Gullace, author of The Blood of Our Sons: Men, Women, and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship during the Great War
"In this book Terri Crocker carefully and forensically investigates perhaps the most mythologised of all First World War events. The book makes a major, revisionist contribution to our understanding of the war and its popular memory, and is essential reading for anyone interested in the real history of Christmas 1914." -- Keith Jeffery, author of Ireland and the Great War
"Crocker's scholarship reveals the multiple meanings of the Christmas Truce, one of the most iconic moments in the memory of the First World War: did it offer temporary respite from the job, a fraternal bonding opportunity, or was it an anti-war rebellion? This fascinating microhistory has much to tell us about the experience of war, the way it was reported, and the shifting way in which it has been remembered." -- Jenny Macleod, University of Hull
"Powerful and convincing. I hope we hear more from this historian in the future." -- Washington Times
"[T]he book makes a welcome assault on the prevailing disillusionment narrative that historians have only recently begun to dismantle. Specifically, Terri Blom Crocker has written a cautionary tale of the power of selection bias in news stories, oral history interviews, and films (including documentaries) to transform a historical event into an icon of antiwar sentiment in the decades that followed it. These virtues make The Christmas Truce valuable reading for anyone interested in an odd moment of the First World War and its evolution in historical memory." -- Michigan War Studies Review
"Crocker, through meticulous research, dismantles the revisionist histories put forth in the 1960s by both historian and filmmaker alike to reveal a significant series of events which began independently at various points along the 20-mile Western Front." -- Kaintuckeean
"Amongst the litany of false narratives and ahistorical morals ascribed to the armistice, Crocker has managed to uncover new lessons to be learned from the Christmas true." -- Journal of Military History
"This is certain to be the standard work on the subject." -- NYMAS Review