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Thread: A Christmas Truce: Germany-3 Britain-2

  1. #1 Eternal Flame A Christmas Truce: Germany-3 Britain-2 
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Almost a century ago, Europe was plunged into a conflict that many believed would ‘be over by Christmas’. It would go on to become the bloodiest and most pointless conflict the world had ever seen up to that point. A conflict in which Generals used out of date military tactics – more suited to the days of hand-to-hand combat and cavalry charges – in an age when new technologies meant that war would be fought with machines. A conflict that took the lives of up to 20 million men in the muddy trenches of Belgium and France, in the wintery mountains of Eastern Europe, in the waters of the Atlantic, on the disease ridden shores of Turkey and in the hot desert climate of Mesopotamia (Iraq). This was the ‘Great War’, as it was known then ‘The War to End all Wars’ or as we now know it, The First World War.

    Most of us are aware of the horrors that were experienced in the trenches by the men who fought in the First World War. Trench-foot, machine gun fire, heavy artillery bombardment, poison gas, death, disease, shellshock. But in amongst all these stories there is a much more human story. A story that shows a common bond amongst all soldiers whether they were British, Irish, French, Belgian, or German. This is the story of the Christmas Truce and the common bond of football.

    The Christmas Truce of 1914 was not a planned event. It was not arranged by the commanding officers on both sides. In fact many soldiers were warned against ‘fraternising with the enemy’. It is widely reported that it was initiated by the Germans, who began by placing candles above the parapets of their trenches. In the battlefields near the Ypres salient, the British and German trenches were often only 50 to 90 yards across No-Man's Land from each other. Many of them could trade greetings (or insults) by simply shouting. There are several accounts of the Germans holding up ‘Merry Christmas’ signs and then, one by one, the soldiers came out of their trenches and exchanged handshakes, cigarettes and other gifts. Both sides agreed then not to fire on each other that night. On a sadder note, the halt in shooting also gave both sides time to gather the bodies of their fallen comrades to bury them.

    That night it wasn’t the sound of guns that rang out but the sound of carols being sung. The truce held for the following day, in some places the truce lasted up to New Year’s Day or for several weeks beyond that. During this time, the troops exchanged food (gift packages had been sent from home to many soldiers) and tools to help mend the living quarters in the trenches and to fix barbed wire. It is also on Christmas Day that reportedly there was a football match between the British and the Germans.

    No evidence for the exact location of this match has ever been found. In subsequent years, if a soldier was asked about it he would claim it happened in the next sector over. When a soldier from that division was asked it would have been in another sector! Many accounts point to a location near Wulverghem (just north of Ploegsteert, Belgium), others to Armentieres in North France. This adds more to the theory that there was more than one match. However, in alot of the accounts the result is always the same: 3-2 to the Germans.

    It is likely that there was not just one match, but several in different locations. It is unlikely however that these were full matches, merely kickabouts. The condition of the ground in No Mans’ Land was not exactly like the local park, let alone a proper football pitch! There was also the need for a ball. It is possible some troops had footballs, but many would have made do with anything that could be stuffed and fashioned into a ball.

    Some of the accounts of the football matches come from the newspapers of the day.
    For example; In the Bolton Chronicle 2nd January 1915: "A very interesting letter has been sent by Mr J A Farrell, a Bolton Post Office employee. The letter is sent to the Post Office and reads: '...In the afternoon there was a football match played beyond the trenches, right in full view of the enemy'..." Although the letter doesn’t specify if the match was between just the allied soldiers themselves or between them and the Germans. It does show the importance of football as a past time to the troops.

    In another; Rugby Advertiser, January 16th 1915: "Walter Cooke, son of Mr H Cooke of Church Lawford has written home to thank his friends for the plum pudding and good things they sent him for Christmas. He says: 'They wanted to play at football but that fell through. They kept their word, and did not fire a shot all Christmas Day and Boxing Day'." Did it fall through due to orders from superiors or due to the lack of a ball?

    One letter usually cited as evidence for such a match (and a score of 3-2 to the Germans), comes from The Times on January 1st, 1915 in which an anonymous major states: "The ... (censored) Regiment actually had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2." But this is also ambiguous: Is the major quoting hearsay or did he actually witness the match himself?
    Historians Seaton and Brown (Christmas Truce, 1984) also point out that a German reference to a match also had a score of 3-2 and go on to say: "The fact two scores of 3-2 occur in the accounts of Christmas Day football must be assigned either to a curious coincidence or to mistaken memory. The two matches referred to could not have been the same one; in that the units concerned were separated not only by geographical distance but also by the river Lys."

    This German reference is credited to an account from Lieutenant Johannes Niemann, of the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment. He served near Armentieres in France.
    "We came up to take over the trenches on the front between Frelinghien and Houplines, where our Regiment and the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders were face to face. It was a cold, starry night and the Scots were a hundred or so metres in front of us in their trenches where, as we discovered, like us they were up to their knees in mud. My Company Commander and I, savouring the unaccustomed calm, sat with our orderlies round a Christmas tree we had put up in our dugout.
    Suddenly, for no apparent reason, our enemies began to fire on our lines. Our soldiers had hung little Christmas trees covered with candles above the trenches and our enemies, seeing the lights, thought we were about to launch a surprise attack. But, by midnight it was calm once more.
    Next morning the mist was slow to clear and suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both the German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternising along the front. I grabbed my binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy. Later a Scottish soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. The Scots marked their goal mouth with their strange caps and we did the same with ours. It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour and that we had no referee. A great many of the passes went wide, but all the amateur footballers, although they must have been very tired, played with huge enthusiasm.
    Us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts - and hooted and whistled every time they caught an impudent glimpse of one posterior belonging to one of "yesterday's enemies." But after an hour's play, when our Commanding Officer heard about it, he sent an order that we must put a stop to it. A little later we drifted back to our trenches and the fraternisation ended.
    The game finished with a score of three goals to two in favour of Fritz against Tommy."
    Last edited by tweepie; 13-12-10 at 00:17.
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  2. #2  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    In further evidence, in 1983 a former Territorial of 6th Cheshires, Ernie Williams, claimed in a UK TV interview that he had taken part himself in the famous match: "The ball appeared from somewhere, I don't know where, but it came from their side - it wasn't from our side that the ball came. They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kickabout. I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee - nothing like the soccer you see on television. The boots we wore were a menace - those great big boots we had on - and in those days the balls were made of leather and they soon got very soggy." Williams was at Wulverghem (just north of Ploegsteert, Belgium) where he says No Man's Land was not broken up by shell fire as it was elsewhere. So did another match take place here?

    His account is supported by the contemporary account of a fellow member of the 6th Cheshires. Company-Sergeant Major Frank Naden was interviewed by The Evening Mail, Newcastle just days after the truce while in Stockport for a week's leave. He told the paper:
    "On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up. Our fellows immediately got out of theirs, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchanging food, cigarettes and souvenirs. The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff. The Scotsmen started the bagpipes and we had a rare old jollification, which included football in which the Germans took part. The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over. They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack knives and other articles. Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease but we did not fire at all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us." So the evidence in favour of a match suggests at least one such game took place at Wulverghem and no score was kept. It is quite likely there were other 'informal' kick arounds elsewhere along the Western Front where troops took part in an informal truce over the Christmas period.

    Whether in France or Belgium, it is clear that the common interest between the enemies was football. For a few brief hours it unified men who were taught and trained to kill their opponents, but instead battled it out on the field of play. It was a time of war when ‘peace broke out’. Sadly it was not to last.

    There were other truces declared in the Christmas of 1915, but these were fewer and did not last as long. Millions of men had perished in the trenches and millions more would follow, especially in the Battle of the Somme the following year (that took 1 million casualties in 5 months). But for one Christmas, all that mattered was football.



    *In memory of the millions of men (and boys) who served, gave their lives or survived with the horrors of The First World War 1914-1918.
    YNWA
    Last edited by tweepie; 13-12-10 at 22:20.
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    R.I.P.

    A tragic waste of lives.

    Regarding the game, i know Blackadder was never offside.
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  4. #4  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by smegitt View Post
    Regarding the game, i know Blackadder was never offside.

    One of my favourite comedies. Mainly because it took everything that was ridiculous about that conflict and made it look even more absurd whilst repecting the memory of the dead in it's poignant ending.
    Last edited by tweepie; 13-12-10 at 01:11. Reason: Spelling
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    Quote Originally Posted by tweepie View Post

    One of my favourite comedies. Mainly because it took everything that was ridiculous about that conflict and made it look even more absurd whilst repecting the memory of the dead in it's poignant ending.
    Aye. Funny funny series. Plus the ending is one of the few things that make me cry with every viewing.
    Last edited by tweepie; 13-12-10 at 01:12. Reason: My spelling!!
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    Tardelli59 is offline Academy prospect
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    Read a number of accounts of this story.A few stolen moments of peace amongst the carnage of human conflict.

    You're right the general concesus was the Gerries won 3-2.Very few admitted to the game(s) actually taking place until years(decades) later.One of the reasons being that fraternisation with the enemy was punishable by death.

    There is a film based on this,called "Joyeux Noel" that I've never got round to seeing myself.The reviews seem favourable.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/


    Nice work btw,tweepie
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  7. #7  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tardelli59 View Post
    Read a number of accounts of this story.A few stolen moments of peace amongst the carnage of human conflict.

    You're right the general concesus was the Gerries won 3-2.Very few admitted to the game(s) actually taking place until years(decades) later.One of the reasons being that fraternisation with the enemy was punishable by death.

    There is a film based on this,called "Joyeux Noel" that I've never got round to seeing myself.The reviews seem favourable.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/


    Nice work btw,tweepie
    Cheers for the feedback and your input Tardelli. I must look out for that film.
    (rep returned btw )
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    my favourite Irish song is fitting for this thread

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntt3wy-L8Ok
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  9. #9  
    Tardelli59 is offline Academy prospect
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    McCartneys Christmas song/video from 1983 "Pipes Of Peace"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVK_mJrLbmY
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  10. #10  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by BVA View Post
    my favourite Irish song is fitting for this thread

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntt3wy-L8Ok
    Love that song. Thanks for posting it.

    "I see by your grave you were only 19, when you joined the great fallen of 1916"

    I always get shivers when I hear those lines.


    Repped.
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  11. #11  
    Cumbrian. is offline First team regular
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    No penalty shootout then?

    Great read.
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    Liverdinner is online now Posts With His Faace
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    Superb.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BVA View Post
    my favourite Irish song is fitting for this thread

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntt3wy-L8Ok
    I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.

    That song brings to my eyes. I hate you. Have some rep.

    BVA superb link. Tweepie, brilliant post. I have my work to do on my Brazil thread in the morning. to keep up with this.

    I have a full collection of Fureys/Arthur Daleys songs. Could we not adapt the red rose to a Liverpool anthem? or did we steal it for "the fields of" very close?

    Sorry, that's just the Irish coming out of me. Too sentimental by far.

    Tweepie, once again, superb post. How do you find the time.
    Last edited by robinredshanks; 14-12-10 at 02:00.
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    Fantastic read, tweepie.

    Brilliant.
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    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by RhysLfc1495 View Post
    Fantastic read, tweepie.

    Brilliant.
    Cheers Rhys. Glad you liked it.
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    Outstanding
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    Tweepie, another amazing article, thanks.

    I always think of Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace whenever I hear this story. A truly great song for a truly moving story.
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    what a fab posting tweepie.Such a tragedy that a century on young soldiers are still losing their lives and still will, even at christmastime.Was feeling very sorry for myself as am in bed with the flu, but not so much now.Wish everybody happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. By the way,i"ve seen the film mentioned,its very good.
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    ceredred is offline Welsh dolphin-whisperer
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    Tweepie you are a Gem and thankyou for the great read.

    The Farm - All Together Now.


    Y.N.W.A
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    geralion is online now Or a tiger they're almost as good
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    The famous movie - All Quiet on the Western Front is also a must see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Qui...nt_(1930_film)

    its on YOutube and google in its entirety. Don't be put off by the black and white and that it was made in 1930 - it was adapted from an amazing novel and is one of the best anti war movies of all time.
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    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Cheers to all the latest feedback.


    Quote Originally Posted by robinredshanks View Post
    Tweepie, once again, superb post. How do you find the time.
    Didn't really take that long RRS. As a History Teacher, you could say I have a natural interest in all things historical so the background knowledge is already there. Once I've formed my idea all it takes is a few searches on the internet and refering to any books I may have on the subject. I already knew I wanted to do an article that related football to the first world war when about a month ago it struck me about the Christmas Truce, which is why I waited until this month to post it.
    I also had finished reading this book which had some inspiring and interesting stories in it. It also mentioned the football match in it so that was when I decided to get more information on it. The internet did the rest, and after I had copied the relevant pieces of information into a word doc (eg the quotes from the newspapers), I was able to use it to form the article.
    The piece itself didn't take very long.. a couple of hours over a couple of nights.
    Last edited by tweepie; 17-12-10 at 19:10.
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    Quote Originally Posted by geralion View Post
    The famous movie - All Quiet on the Western Front is also a must see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Qui...nt_(1930_film)

    its on YOutube and google in its entirety. Don't be put off by the black and white and that it was made in 1930 - it was adapted from an amazing novel and is one of the best anti war movies of all time.
    I've got the newer version on DVD. So if you cant stand black and white then just watch that one. It still touches me.
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  23. #23  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    A Seasonal bump.

    It's been a year since I wrote this, thought some of you might like to read it if you hadn't before.


    Merry Christmas all.

    :mellow:
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  24. #24  
    Kloppstachio is online now Academy prospect
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    Quote Originally Posted by tweepie View Post
    A Seasonal bump.

    It's been a year since I wrote this, thought some of you might like to read it if you hadn't before.


    Merry Christmas all.

    :mellow:
    A brilliant write up Tweepie ! Thank you for sharing this story. By the way, I've watched Joyeux NoŽl and its a poignant movie; highly recommended.
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    A great read!

    I always used to love researching this story in school.
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  26. #26  
    Liverpoolforme is online now First team regular
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    Must have been even harder to kill the enemy now that they had basically made friends and played a game of football etc.....very sad indeed.

    At least before they could pretend to themselves that they were evil german's or evil English etc etc.....horrible time. :sad:
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    "Who took a football with 'em?"
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  28. #28  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by Liverpoolforme View Post
    Must have been even harder to kill the enemy now that they had basically made friends and played a game of football etc.....very sad indeed.

    At least before they could pretend to themselves that they were evil german's or evil English etc etc.....horrible time. :sad:
    Actually, after the Christmas truce many platoons got moved to a different section of the front precisely because those in authority had the same 'fears'. How can you kill your enemy if he is your friend?

    I know much is made in Britain these days about respecting the situation the troops out in Afghanistan are going through, but when you put into perspective what these millions of men and boys went through nearly a century ago it just does not compare.


    The closer we get to the centenary of the start of WW1, the more I feel we should all educate ourselves about it. God forbid that humankind goes through that madness again.
    Last edited by tweepie; 16-12-11 at 22:35. Reason: Probably best not to post it.
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  29. #29  
    Kloppstachio is online now Academy prospect
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    tweepie just curious if you've read "The Guns of August" or the "White War". Really interesting WW1 perspectives from the Western and Italian fronts.
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  30. #30  
    tweepie is offline LFC Forums Moderator
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rushtachio View Post
    tweepie just curious if you've read "The Guns of August" or the "White War". Really interesting WW1 perspectives from the Western and Italian fronts.
    I've heard of 'The Guns of August' when I was in University. I never read it though. I think I just saw the title mentioned in the context of other reading I may have done.

    I've never heard of 'White War' it would be interesting to read about the war from the Italian perspecitive. Theirs is an interesting story, given that they changed sides in 1915.

    A book I read last year, that in fact inspired me to write this article was a book about the Irish soldiers who fought in the war.
    Called 'A Coward if I return, A hero If I fall' I found it full of some inspiring and heartwrenching stories.
    A book I believe all Irish people should read, especially those who still like to conveniently ignore those thousands who suffered in the trenches in favour of remembering those who fought their own cause closer to home at the same time.
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