In the build up to Remembrance Sunday and the 100-year anniversary since the end of the First World War we speak to local war historian Sir Andrew Hamilton about his family’s link to the Christmas Truce.
War historian Sir Andrew Hamilton who lives in Walton, near Wellesbourne, has an astonishing personal link to the First World War and the Christmas Truce in 1914.
Sir Andrew’s grandfather, Captain Robert Hamilton, was an officer in the first battalion in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. During his service he kept a diary which is how Sir Andrew learnt of his grandfather’s role in the truce.
Captain Hamilton and the Royal Warwicks were in the trenches by Plugstreet Wood in Belgium facing the Germans across No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve.
The diary says: “We heard them shouting, ‘Are you the Warwicks?’ to which our men replied ‘come and see’. They said ‘You come half way, and we will come half way, and bring you some cigars’. This went on for some time, when Private Gregory, Double Ginger, my late servant, came and asked if he might go out half way.
“I said ‘Yes, at your own risk’. 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.
“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 the 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.”
Sir Andrew said: “It is wonderful to have that link to such a famous, iconic and historic event. By doing what he did my grandfather put his head on the line as it was a treasonous act to fraternise with the enemy. In his diary he wrote ‘I am told the general and staff are furious but powerless to stop it [truce]’.
“Many people saw it [the truce] as a ray of hope in a dark time. My grandfather was hugely impressed by it and wrote that it was ‘a day unique in the world’s history’ and that they enjoyed ‘a very merry Christmas and a most extraordinary one’ but he also recorded ‘I doubled the sentries after midnight’ so he wasn’t taking any chances.
“Most people believe that there was a football match but in the diary my grandfather wrote that there would have been a game of football but it didn’t happen because the opposing officer went behind the lines.
“Instead the Royal Warwicks kicked a football around among themselves but there was no official England vs German football match at Plugstreet Wood.”
Captain Hamilton had returned home on leave in January 1915 and due to problems with his ears was deemed medically unfit to return and became a commandant at the Hereford detention barracks.