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Stories From Main Street: Looking Back At The Christmas Truce Of 1914

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A century ago there was peace on earth, at least for a fleeting moment as the guns fell silent and enemies embraced during the Christmas truce of 1914.

"This was really the end of chivalry," said professor Stanley Weintraub, who combed through letters, diaries and newspapers at the Imperial War Museum in London for his book, "Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce."

The unofficial truce started with the Germans erecting Christmas trees atop the trenches.

The Christmas Truce Of 1914

"The British had seen the Germans erecting Christmas trees with candles on them on the bulwarks of their trenches only about 75 yards away," Weintraub said. "They crawled out to explore and the two sides met in no man's land."

After burying the dead, they shared beer and gifts.

"The British had brass boxes of chocolates and tobacco and the Germans had wooden boxes with cigars and sausages and so on," Weintraub said. "Walter Kirchhoff of the Berlin Opera came forward and he sang 'Silent Night' in both German and English across the trenches."

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Enemies also turned the battlefield into a soccer field, fashioning balls out of rags.

"What they discovered is that on both ends of the rifle they were the same, the same working class guys, it was a very strange event," Weintraub said. "The circumstances were unique, it probably couldn't have happened in another war."

In some spots the fragile, unofficial truce lasted until New Year's Day.

"They were very sad about it, they knew that it was a terrible thing they were returning to but they had no choice, they were under orders," Weintraub said.

After the generals gave their orders, a German officer promised to fire a warning before resuming artillery.

"The German officer took off his gloves and gave them as a gift to the British officer who was a Scott; the Scott officer took off his scarf and gave it to the German as a gift," Weintraub said.

After the exchange, the German officer said, "We'll give you adequate warning, we're going to fire rockets into the air so you'll know that we're going to be shooting and you can get your heads down," Weintraub said.

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