The meeting of British and German troops on No Man’s Land to exchange festive greetings and gifts on the first Christmas of the Great War is still seen as a shining episode of shared humanity from among the bloody chapters of World War One. But it was not until the diary of Warwickshire Regiment Captain Robert Hamilton was discovered that the role of officers in the festivities was known.
Now his grandson Andrew Hamilton together with Warwick historian Alan Reed, have brought the soldier’s account of the legendary truce of 1914 to life in their new book Meet at Dawn, Unarmed.
Gathering material has been a year-long labour of love for the two men.
During their research, the pair collected together more than 100 photographs, cartoons, maps and sketches to retell Capt Hamilton’s story and his involvement in the famous truce.
As well as retracing the route he took from England to the battle zone, they have used eight soldiers’ accounts to recreate what happened during the Yuletide fraternisation near Plugstreet Wood [Ploegstreet].
Mr Hamilton, who lives at Walton near Wellesbourne, discovered the diary after his grandfather’s death.
But it was when his daughter Alice went on a school tour to the Western Front with Mr Reed, that its true relevance was revealed.
Mr Reed said: “When I first saw the diary I knew it was of real historical importance.
“I went to the regimental museum in St John’s House in Warwick to check it against Lieutenant Montgomery’s diary and everything Hamilton said tallies with his account.
“Christmas 1914 is something that historians feel is one of the great moments of the war and of the century.”
Mr Hamilton, a history teacher, said: “The Christmas day truce is such a major event in the history of the war that we vowed we would publish it.
“There is a lot of important information about the Warwickshires and the start of the war.
“To have an eye-witness account of the event that hasn’t surfaced before is very interesting.
“You are brought close to a man and his personal reaction and the way he was seen by his men.”
The book charts the early life of Capt Hamilton, the son of Sir Frederic and Lady Mary Hamilton of Tiddington, from his days at Trinity College in Glenalmond to to his marriage to Irene, the daughter of Lord and Lady Mordaunt of Walton Hall near Wellesbourne, and his first years in the army.
The soldier’s entire diary from August 1914 to January 1915 is also reprinted and interspersed with extracts from Irene’s diary to provide an account of life on the ‘homefront’ and the fears and anxieties she suffered at his absence.
During his time in the trenches, Capt Hamilton met the Warwickshire soldier Bruce Bairnsfather, who lived not far from Tiddington at Bishopton and whose war cartoons are now famous.
He was also a friend of Warwickshire Lieutenant Bernard Law Montgomery, the future Field Marshal of World War II fame.
Mr Hamilton said: “It has been a wonderful experience following his footsteps in 1914 and recreating his role in the Christmas Truce.