It is considered a historical fact that during Christmas 1914 – the first Christmas of World War I – widespread ceasefires took place on the Western Front.
After five months of fighting, hostilities calmed down, French, German and British soldiers laid down their arms, crossed trenches and met in no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to discuss, exchange views. gifts and take pictures.
However, one tale blurred in the mists of time is that of the Christmas Day football game between the British and the Germans.
It’s a romantic and healthy tale – but did it really happen?
It was the first Christmas of the war and the soldiers were exhausted. They were homesick and torn apart by everything they had witnessed. Many expected to return home for Christmas.
What is taken to be a fact through testimony is that late on Christmas Eve the British Expeditionary Force heard German troops in the trenches in front of Christmas carols. The Germans had lined their trenches with fir trees and candles, and the British were returning with a few interpretations of Christmas carols.
The troops then ventured into no man’s land, shook hands, and traded everything from buttons to cigarettes, alcohol to hats. A Briton even gave a haircut to a German.
However, there isn’t a lot of symbolism or romance attached to the hairstyle. Too bad, because that would have made a Sainsbury advertisement much simpler.
What really shoots to the heart is the beautiful game, and legend says that a full-fledged football match was staged; Great Britain vs Germany, pole caps and real football. They say the game ended 3-2 against the Germans.
Such a story has been widely dismissed by historians – in part because the extremely harsh winter soil, barbed wire and bomb craters would have made a staged football game unlikely.
However, first-hand accounts suggest that a series of small-scale kickabouts – possibly with a can of bully beef instead of a soccer ball – took place between soldiers. Again, the question of whether these troops involved were from the same side or from a conflicting side has been blurred over time.
“The most extraordinary incident … the Germans started yelling at us to ‘get out’ and ‘have a drink’ and also to climb into the trenches,” wrote Lieutenant Charles Brockbank, a member of the 6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, in his journal. [via These Football Times].
“One of them came out in front without a gun or an arm, as one of our own came out too. A huge crowd formed. We had found a little rubber ball so, of course, a soccer game went on and we traded various things. “
Likewise, Lieutenant Johannes Niemann gives a detailed account of the German side – albeit in an interview conducted in the 1960s – reporting that the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment played a match against Scottish troops.
“The Scots scored their goal mouths with their weird caps and we did the same with ours,” recalls Niemann. “It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we kept going, strictly following the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour and we didn’t have a referee.
“A lot of the passes were wide, but all the amateur footballers, although they were very tired, played with great enthusiasm… but after an hour of play, when our captain heard about it, he said. sent an order that we must put a stop. “
Although the truth behind the Christmas Day soccer game has been debated and disputed – from the size of the game, to the presence of an actual soccer ball, to the fact that it actually took place – which cannot be made false, it is the existence of Christmas 1914. Truce of day itself.
It was a demonstration of peace in the face of conflict, of solidarity in the face of tragedy, of hope in the face of despair.