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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December 2003, 11:58 GMT
My grandad's WWI Christmas truce
Andy
Reader Andy Callan tells how his grandad was one of the first to greet his German counterpart in a WWI Christmas Day truce. Let us know what your grandad or grandma did, using the form at the bottom of the page.

WHAT MY GRANDAD DID

My grandfather was one of the first British soldiers to leave the trenches and fraternise with a German on the Christmas Day truce in 1914.

CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914
In the trenches in France
No authorised truce, but two-thirds of the British/German front line held local ceasefires
Football matches and festivities were held in No Man's Land
Some historians dispute that these games took place
At least, he was the first man out of the trenches on his section of the front that was held by the 2nd battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers (a famous unit, which included Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves among its officers).

My grandfather never spoke of the war, but two years ago, I came across a book in the local Oxfam - The War the Infantry Knew, by J C Dunn, a minor classic, which chronicles in great detail the doings of this battalion from 1914 to 1919.

So I looked up his name in the index, and there he was. One entry for Private Ike Sawyer: "December 25, 1914. Our pioneer sergeant, Nobby Hall, made a screen and painted on it 'A Merry Christmas', which we hoisted on Christmas morning. No shots were fired.

Family portrait from during WWI
Ike Sawyer (left) back from the front at his brother's wedding
"On the left we could see that our fellows were carrying their breakfast in the open, and everything was quiet. Both sides got a bit venturous and looked over the top.

"Then a German started to walk down the towpath towards our lines and Ike Sawyer went to meet him. The German handed over a box of cigars."

The Germans later rolled over a barrel of beer for the British troops, and were given a plum pudding in return. I think I know who got the better deal.

HOW I FIRST HEARD THIS STORY

Like many veterans, he never talked about the war. Nobody in the family had heard this story until I came across it, quite by chance, in this book.

The Christmas truce was very much an initiative of the troops on the ground; it's possible that he felt that leaving the trench was an insubordinate thing to do, and that's why he never talked about it.

INFLUENCE HE HAD ON ME

My grandfather died when I was two. I don't remember meeting him, although undoubtedly I did.

He was a survivor and a lucky man, traits I think I've inherited. He survived the Great War, and became a stalwart of the Birmingham branch of the veterans' group, the Old Contemptibles.

He also raised a family of seven children, one of whom was my mother. His wife died in the 1930s, and as happened in those days, the children were farmed out to assorted aunts and uncles. Nevertheless, he was always there for them.


Tell us about your grandad or grandma, using the form below. Please include contact details so we can get in touch with if we need photographs or more details.

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