This time 103 years ago saw one of the most iconic and mythologised events of modern history. With the First World War then at a stalemate, on Christmas Day of 1914, over 100,000 British, French and German troops along the western front laid down their arms and participated in an impromptu and unofficial truce.
The truce itself started on Christmas Eve, after German soldiers decorated their trenches with candles and trees and spent the night singing German carols. The British on the other side then responded with carols of their own and Christmas greetings were exchanged through the night. The following morning saw soldiers from both sides meeting in No Man’s Land – the area of contested ground between the two side’s trenches. Gifts such as food, alcohol, tobacco and uniform souvenirs were exchanged, photos were taken and in some places, a game of football was even played between the two sides.
These games of football are written in legend, as one of the many moments that sport has united different people together. Historians have disputed whether any football games happened or not, but recent evidence found in the letters and accounts of both British and German soldiers from the front seems to point to the conclusion that such games did occur in more places than one. One of these such encounters speaks for instance of a match involving the Lancashire Fusiliers near the village of Le Touquet where a tin of bully beef was used as a ball; whilst in another part of the frontier, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders partook in a match against German infantry (and allegedly won 4-1). The evidence in favour of these games having occured isn’t limited to the Allied side either – Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch of Germany’s 134th Saxons Infantry Regiment wrote of his side of the trenches and said that the English “brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was”.
The Truce itself was not only used for the purpose of gift-trading and football however; a lot of soldiers from both sides took the opportunity to retrieve and bury the bodies of those who had died in No Man’s Land in the previous days. Indeed this is when the 2nd Battalion of the Warwickshire Regiment retrieved the body of Lieutenant Bernard F. P. Bernard, the first Maltese man to die on the Western Front during World War One. He was shot during an offensive on December 18th and died with “a revolver in one hand and pliers in the other” whilst cutting German obstacles. He was just 20 years old.
Like Lieutenant Bernard, there were thousands of other young men killed during the war; young lives thrown away in order to satisfy the political agendas of politicians and states. Today, over 100 years later, young and innocent lives are still being thrown away. As we go into a new year, it is high time that these needless deaths be stopped. It is truly time that the people on this planet work towards a world that is without hate and in peace.
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