CBC Digital Archives

The Christmas truce of 1914

In 1974 Alan Maitland joined CBC Radio's As It Happens as co-host, and during that time he became known affectionately as Fireside Al and Front Porch Al, tempting listeners to pull up a chair to the fire or on the porch (depending on the season) and listen. He read stories by a long list of authors, and they were a delight for audiences, whether the story was a humorous or a poignant one. His reading of The Shepherd, by Frederick Forsythe, has become a Christmas Eve tradition on As It Happens.

It was Christmas Eve of 1914, and soldiers hunkered down in France were weary of a war they had thought would be over by then. Putting aside their battle, German and British soldiers came out of their trenches to meet in no man's land and wish one another Merry Christmas with an exchange of food, games, music and even gifts. Lieutenant Bruce Bairnsfather was there with his British regiment to witness and participate in the events that took place that night and throughout Christmas Day. Listen as As It Happens' Alan Maitland reads Bairnsfather's account of that strange, wonderful and now legendary Christmas.
• Born in 1888, Bruce Bairnsfather had at one point been interested in a career in art, and during his time in the trenches he began drawing cartoons for the British weekly tabloid The Bystander. Wounded, he was sent back to work in England for the duration of the war, and it was during this time that he created his character "Old Bill". The cartoon was hugely popular both at home and with the soldiers in the trenches. He died in 1959.

• The story read here was originally published in Bairnsfather's 1916 book Bullets and Billets.

• For more on World War I, see the CBC Digital Archives topic The First World War: Canada Remembers.
Broadcast Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: Dec. 23, 1977
Host: Barbara Frum
Speaker: Alan Maitland
Duration: 11:27
Photo Credit: Horace Brown / Library and Archives Canada / PA-107276 Trenches, 1915

Last updated: December 24, 2013

Page consulted on December 24, 2013

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