What was the situation in December 1914?Barely five months after the outbreak of the war, nearly a million soldiers and civilians were already dead. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that June had plunged Europe into its bloodiest war to date, with no end in sight. The armies of the Allied and Central Powers were grimly deadlocked, facing each other across a series of trenches that stretched more than 400 miles from the English Channel to Switzerland. On the Western Front that December, it rained almost every day; in some places, the water was 5 feet deep. Armies of rats and lice shared the trenches. As Christmas approached, millions of mud-covered troops were shivering, frightened, and homesick.
How did the truce start?
It bubbled up from the ranks, with both armies making small gestures of good will in the days before Dec. 25. Near Armentières, France, some Germans suggested a brief, local cease-fire, even sweetening the deal with a chocolate cake. Along the Lys River, a battalion of Welsh infantrymen hoisted a banner reading
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