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At Christmas 1914 German and British troops stopped fighting and played football instead

Goran Blazeski

The First World War will always be remembered for its cruelty, taking the lives of nine million combatants and around seven million civilians. It started on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918.

A conflict like World War I had never been seen before in history. Around 65 million people took up arms in the Great War. It was truly a “World War,” fought from the shores of America to the plains of Asia. It was a war that changed the nature of war itself. However, a tiny flicker of humanity still glowed in the darkness.

It was Christmas on the Western Front when something strange happened. Late on Christmas Eve 1914, British troops heard German troops in the trenches opposite them singing carols and patriotic songs and saw lanterns and small fir trees along their trenches.

Late on Christmas Eve, Germans singing Stille Nacht echoed across No Man’s Land. The British, initially perplexed, soon joined in. It was the start of an unofficial ceasefire on the Western Front, known as “the Christmas Truce.”

British and German troops meeting in no man's land during the unofficial truce (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector)

British and German troops meeting in no man’s land during the unofficial truce (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector)

The next day, the Germans called to the British to meet them in No Man’s Land. At first, the Brits suspected that the Germans would try to kill them but they saw that the German soldiers were standing on their parapet, unarmed and in full view.

They were shouting that they didn’t want to fight that day and that they would send some beer. They were all confused by the situation and didn’t know how to react but in the end, they agreed not to fight until the following morning. It was truly was a “silent night.”

British and German soldiers met in No Man’s Land and shook hands, exchanged gifts, sang songs, took photographs, and exchanged food and souvenirs. They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts. But the strangest thing the soldiers did was to play a football match between British and German troops.

British and German troops burying the bodies of those killed in the attack of 18 December.

British and German troops burying the bodies of those killed in the attack on 18 December.

On January 1, 1915, an anonymous Major wrote to The Times that an English regiment “had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2.” And that wasn’t the only football match played in No Man’s Land during the Great War. There were many other similar stories across the Western Front.

It was a situation never seen before on battlefields. It was so strange that officers started complaining to their commanders that playing football during the war was ridiculous and that it must be stopped.

Football Remembers memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum. Photo Credit

Football Remembers memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum. Photo Credit

It was one of the greatest moments of compassion in the history of warfare but they soon had to put an end to it. The war was on again. The football match between the two enemies gave hope for humanity and made people forget about nations and patriotism for a day.

After 1914, the High Commands on both sides tried to prevent any truces on a similar scale happening again. Despite this, there were some isolated incidents of soldiers holding brief truces later in the war, and not only at Christmas.