The Christmas of 1914 sees the last gasp of the nineteenth century. German troops decorate their trenches with Christmas decorations on December 24, 1914, and sing Christmas carols. The British troops opposite them respond by singing their own carols, and before too long both sides are shouting Christmas greetings at each other. The artillery falls silent, and soldiers from both sides emerge from their trenches and meet in No Mans Land, exchange small gifts, and, legend has it, play a game of football, which ends when the ball deflates on a sharp piece of barbed wire. While perhaps noble, the generals are horrified, and on following years of the war heavy artillery barrages are scheduled for Christmas Day to prevent any more fraternisation with the enemy. By the end of the war, the events of Christmas 1914 seem part of another age, never to return.


In any case, Christmas comes and goes, and the eager volunteers remain in France. Predictions of a quick war have proven unfounded, but the generals remain hopeful of a knockout blow to win the war at a stroke.

In an attempt to force such a blow, and with the action deadlocked on the Western Front, the British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, proposes an attack on the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli. A naval attack ends in disaster as six Allied ships are sunk by mines in the straits and are forced to withdraw. The British resolve to try again with assistance from the army, and on April 25th British, French and ANZAC forces attack the Gallipoli peninsula. But the element of surprise has been lost and the Turks are now lying in wait. Turkish soldiers, firing from prepared positions in the hills, pin down the Allied force on the beaches and keep them there. The Allies dig in as best they can, and in the hot Mediterranean climate endure conditions suffered by no soldier in France. Typhus and dysentery wrack the invading Allied army, the smell of rotting corpses can be detected on the British ships three miles out to sea. They remain for several months, until defeat is finally admitted during the winter of 1915. By January 1916 all the troops have been extracted, but the war has claimed another 265,000 casualties.


Meanwhile, on the Western Front, new weapons are being tried. On April 22nd the Germans release chlorine gas at Ypres. The greenish yellow clouds of gas panic the African colonial troops stationed there, and leave Ypres exposed, only the swift response of nearby British and Canadian troops avert disaster. Limited Allied offensives at Loos and Artois meet with little success, hampered as they are by incompetent commanders, and the casualty list grows still further.


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