On Christmas 1914, British and German Troops Played Football Instead of Fighting

Diana Rus

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German and British soldiers talking. An artist's impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915Photo byChristmas truce/ Wikipedia

Religion and faith could be the last universal concept that holds the world together.

Word War I started on 28 July 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918.

The Christmas truce, which took place over the Western Front of World War I throughout Christmas 1914, was a widespread unofficial ceasefire.

The Christmas truces were especially notable because of the number of men involved and the extent of their participation. It was fascinating to see so many men openly assembling in daylight, even in peaceful areas.

They are frequently regarded as a representation of humanity and peace in the midst of one of the worst wars in recorded history.

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British and German troops meeting in no man's land during the unofficial trucePhoto byChristmas truce/ Wikipedia

The Christmas truce

There were various peace attempts before Christmas 1914. A group of 101 British women suffragettes signed the Open Christmas Letter, a public plea for peace written "To the Women of Germany and Austria" towards the close of 1914.

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV pleaded for a formal cease-fire between the belligerent nations. He requested that "the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang" but both sides refused.

Christmas truce was a widespread unofficial ceasefire along the Western Front of World War I during Christmas 1914.

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The Christmas Truce on the Western Front, 1914Photo byThe Christmas Truce on the Western Front, 1914/ Wikipedia Commons

After the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres, armies ran out of troops and ammunition, and commanders revised their strategy.

Soldiers from France, Germany, and the British soldiers crossed trenches the week before Christmas to chat and exchange holiday greetings. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, men from both sides crossed into the unregulated territory to socialize and exchange gifts and food.

In some sections, fighting persisted, while in others, the combatants agreed to little more than agreements to recover bodies.

There were joint burial ceremonies, prisoner exchanges, and carol-singing at the end of several meetings. One of the most memorable images of the truce is of men playing football with one another.

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Christmas Truce, a sculpture in Mesen, BelgiumPhoto byChristmas Truce - Mesen/ Wikipedia Commons

Christmas 1914

Approximately 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the Western Front's informal cease-fires. German soldiers lit candles for their Christmas trees and trenches before continuing the celebration by singing carols. In response, the British sang their carols.

The singing of Christmas greetings proceeded between the two sides. Soon after, there were forays over unowned land where symbolic presents were exchanged, such as food, wine, cigarettes, and mementos like buttons and hats.

Numerous reports of the truce mention one or more football games played in the uncontrolled territory.

The 18th Infantry Brigade commander, Brigadier-General Walter Congreve, who was stationed close to Neuve Chapelle on Christmas Day, noted in a letter that the Germans had called a cease-fire for the day. A bold member of his team fearlessly climbed up atop the parapet, and people from both sides crossed into the unowned land and officers exchanged cigarettes and cigars while shaking hands.

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Christmas Truce 1914 Football Remembers memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, Arlewas, Staffordshire.Photo byChristmas Truce 1914 Memorial/ Wikipedia Commons

After the 1914 Christmas truce

A few troops set up ceasefires the next year, although they were not nearly as common as in 1914; this was partly because commanders had issued orders expressly forbidding truces. By 1916, the war had grown harsher due to the casualties sustained in the 1915 engagements, and soldiers were unwilling to consider a truce.

The truces were not limited to the Christmas season and mirrored a "live and let live" attitude, with infantry close together stopping the fighting and fraternizing, engaging in discussion or exchanging for cigarettes. 

There were sporadic ceasefires in some sectors to allow soldiers to cross the enemy lines and retrieve wounded or dead comrades; in other sectors, there was a tacit understanding not to fire while men were resting, exercising, or working in plain sight of the enemy.

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The Christmas Truce on the Western Front, 1914Photo byThe Christmas Truce on the Western Front, 1914/ Wikipedia Commons

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