The Christmas Day truce of World War One in 1914

Wednesday 25 Dec 2013
A wooden cross surrounded by footballs marks the field where British and German soldiers played football

Something very unusual happened on Christmas Day in 1914. British and German soldiers had been fighting each other for several months – by that time around 40,000 Britons alone had lost their lives – but then they stopped to play each other at football!

The First World War was a global war centred in Europe that lasted for more than four years.

While British and German soldiers dug themselves into trenches on the Western Front in France and Belgium, football was still being played back home in England. There were Division 1 and Division 2 Championships in the Football League and an FA Cup competition.

A lot of people thought this was wrong. The FA was in charge of football then, as it is now, and the Dean of Lincoln wrote scornfully to it of “onlookers who, while so many of their fellow men are giving themselves in their country’s peril, still go gazing at football”.

But The FA was fully behind the war effort right from the start, with the following resolution carried unanimously…
“The Football Association earnestly appeals to the patriotism of all who are interested in the game to help in all possible ways in support of the nation in the present serious crisis, and particularly to those who are able to render personal service in the Army and Navy, which are so gallantly upholding our national honour.”

What has famously become known as ‘The Christmas Truce’ was a series of unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas in 1914. For a short time the fighting stopped. It began when German soldiers started to sing Christmas carols. British troops responded and gradually both sets of soldiers ventured into No Man’s Land, the ground between the British trenches and the German ones, where they exchanged food and souvenirs.

They were even friendly enough to play games of football together. One in particular has often been written and spoken about. In 2008, at the spot in the French village of Frelinghien where their regimental ancestors came out of their trenches to kick a ball around on Christmas Day in 1914, men from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, played a match against the German Battalion 371.

A number of professional footballers lost their lives in the War. Edwin Latherton, known as ‘Pinky’, had been capped for England against Wales and Ireland. He was only 5’5” tall but played as a midfielder for Blackburn Rovers and helped them to win the League title twice. His career ended when he was killed while serving with the Royal Field Artillery at Passchendaele.

‘The Christmas Truce’ was seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity in one of the most violent events of modern history.

This feature comes from the England v Germany match programme in November. To subscribe to future programmes, click here, or you can download the digital version direct to your ipad or iphone via the Apple Newsstand, here.

By Gary Stonehouse Staff Writer