Grandpa's diary reveals graphic story of 1914 Christmas Day truce

The discovery of a Warwickshire soldier's wartime diary has unearthed new details of the legendry Christmas Day truce of 1914.

Today, 90 years after British and German troops met on No Man's Land to exchange festive greetings and gifts, the event is still seen as a shining episode of shared humanity from among the bloody chapters of World War One.

Courier reporter Holly Whitmill spoke to the family of the soldier - Captain of the Warwickshire Regiment Robert Hamilton - and to Warwick historian Alan Reed and discovered how the diary came to light.

On the first Christmas of the Great War, soldiers from both sides called a truce and met in the wasteland littered with bodies along what has become known as the Western Front.

In a great act of shared humanity, carols were sung, football matches improvised and presents exchanged.

But while historians knew what took place, it was only when Warwickshire College lecturer and Western Front tour guide Alan Reed met the family of Captain Robert Hamilton, who live at Walton, near Wellesbourne, that the role of officers in organising the festivities became known.

The diary was discovered by a chance encounter when Kings High student Alice Hamilton - Captain Hamilton's great-grandaughter - decided to go on a school to the Western Front.

Mr Reed was to lead the tour and after he gave a talk about it at the school, Alice's father Andrew asked him if he would like to look at his grandfather's war diary.

Mr Reed said: "When I first saw the diary I knew it was of real historical importance, but I didn't want to tell the world that until I had done some research to check it wasn't fake.

"I went to the regimental museum in St John's House in Warwick to check it against Lieutenant Montgomery's diary and everything Hamilton said tallies with his account.

"Christmas 1914 is something that historians feel is one of the great moments of the war and of the 20th century."

In his account, Captain Hamilton described how on Christmas Eve, the troops heard the Germans shouting "Are you the Warwicks?" to which they replied "come and see". The Germans said "you come half way and we will come half way and bring you some cigars".

This went on for some time until one soldier - Private Gregory - asked Capt Hamilton if he "might go out halfway".

In his diary Capt Hamilton wrote afterwards: "Pte Gregory stepped over the parapet and got half way and was heard saying, 'well here I am, where are you?'. 'Come half way they said', so on went Gregory until he came upon two unarmed Germans and one fully armed lying down just behind with his rifle pointed at him. Typically German. Gregory was unarmed and alone. Typically British. He got his cigar and spun them some magnificent yarns about the strength of his company, which amused us all very much when he told us later. They wanted me to meet their officer and after a great deal of shouting across I said I would meet him at dawn, unarmed."

Hamilton met them at dawn in No Man's Land and this is his account of that meeting and the events that followed.:

"Xmas Day - I went out and found a Saxon officer of the 134th Saxon Corps, who was fully armed. I pointed to his revolver and pouch. He smiled and said, seeing I was unarmed, "Alright now". We shook hands and said what we could in double dutch, arranged a local armistice for 48 hours and returned to our trenches. This was the signal for our respective soldiers to come out. As far as I can make out, this effort of ours extended itself on either side for some considerable distance. The soldiers on both sides met in their hundreds and exchanged greetings and gifts. We buried many Germans and they did the same to ours."

The truce lasted until December 28 when the Warwicks were relieved by the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Captain Hamilton came home in 1915 to train soldiers. He was later a prison governor and a farmer and died in the 1960s.

His grandson Andrew - a history teacher - is proud of the role his grandfather played.

He said: "The diary really shows all the bravery, courage and hardship they endured and how they came close to dying. The Christmas Day truce is a famous event in military history and it was a privilege to think he was involved in it."

Mr Hamilton now uses the diary as a teaching aid. He said:"It's all there in black and white: the mud, the rats, the dangers and the Christmas Day truce."