From the saddle to the sky – Dorset’s connection to Christmas Truce of 1914

From The Saddle to the Sky – Dorset’s connection to Christmas Truce of 1914

A Young Historians Post.

The Story

On the 24th of December 1914 the soldiers across the western front hunkered down in their trenches, wondered if tomorrow they would have to pick up arms again and continue the fight. There was a belief that the war would have been all over by Christmas, but the sun was setting and there did not seem to be an end in sight.

But then the singing started. From across no-man’s land rounds of festive cheer sprang up, Germans singing renditions of carols and patriotic songs, those fighting in the British army retaliated with national songs of their own. Could this have been the beginning of a vocal war or was there to be an unspoken agreement between men that maybe there could be peace, even for just a short while.

As the sun rose on Christmas morning, across the front lines’ men put down their weapons and ventured, brave but tentative, onto no-mans land. English and German soldiers intermingled, greeting one-another with respect, understanding, and merriment. These soldiers celebrated Christmas day by engaging in, not violent combat, but a football friendly, creating what would become an almost mythologised display of solidarity with their fellow human beings.

The Ground…

The story of the Christmas day truces is well told and well reported, though there was not peace across the entirety of the western front. Even in recounted instances of a cease to the fighting, the peace was not always instant. Charles Wallace, who served with the Gordon Highlanders during WW1 and whose family come from Weymouth, shared the events he witnesses on Christmas morning.

“A Sergeant wished to test if the Christmas spirit continued after the singing from the night before but was shot by the enemy forces. That was the last casualty for this battalion until January 3rd when the truce came to an end, as many did at the start of the new year.”

Accounts from those who experienced this event describe a ‘live and let live’ coordination between the soldiers, but it was not an occasion that everyone celebrated. Neither English nor German High Commands liked this uprising of truces as they believed it would undermine the will to fight, but those on the front lines sought to achieve Christmas spirit nevertheless and found many ways of doing so.

…To the sky

Louis Strange was born in Tarrant Keyneston, in the North of Dorset on the 27th of July 1891. During his schooling in Oxford, he joined the Dorset Yeomanry (Queens Own) as a part of the Southwestern Mounted Brigade. It was later, in 1912, while with the Dorsetshire Yeomanry that he observed aerial military manoeuvres performed over Sherbourne. It was this event that reported to have promoted his interest to take to the skies as a pilot.

Strange became a very competent pilot, being commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Dorsetshire regiment on July 30th, 1914. During these years he trailed and invented multiple gun mountings to allow for ease of manoeuvrability when participating in aerial combat, as well as putting his inventive mind to use upon arriving in France in 1914. Strange set about creating aerial weapons to be used against the invading German forces and, in November of 1914 at just 23 years old, Strange saw his inventions prosper as they aided in his first victory, taking down a German plane in the north of France.

Despite his clear dedication to the war effort, and perhaps because of his creative mind, there have been reports that Louis Strange played an iconic role in the story of the Christmas Truce. On the 25th of December, Strange flew a solo mission across a German-occupied airfield in Lille and dropped a football onto the troops below. While it cannot be considered that this specific event triggered the uptake of football matches between the German and British troops, it indicates the levity that the Christmas period provided to those serving in the war despite it being such a cheerless time.

Boxing Day (what happened after the Christmas Day Truce)

Other servicemen from the Dorset area have share their tales of the Christmas Truce form their experiences on the ground and these accounts all share similar details.

George Beck, who lived on Portland, describes sharing souvenirs with the Germans as well as exchanging food and cigars. He writes that the Germans were very eager to exchange anything for some Bully Beef (corned beef) and jam. Charles Wallace had shared a similar account in which he traded his food for a cigar, which he kept long after the war was over.

While they may only be small, the continued presence of these tokens of good-will, regardless of whether they are on display in museums or just treasured family souvenirs, indicates the importance of this moment of solidarity. Though the future was uncertain to these men the events surrounding the Christmas Day Truce feels like a representation of that time of year, a time that to so many can represent homecoming, merriment, and a hope for peace in the new year.



This post was written by members of the young historians’ group at The Keep from the museum’s own resources as well as accounts of these events from local newspapers, wherein the details are provided by descendants of those who fought during WW1.

                Contributions from these young historians: Alec, Callum, Dee, Jasmine, Jeb, Patrick, Robin, Seth and Zephyrus.

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