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Was There Really a Christmas Football Match in the Trenches?

Historic football facts...

Was There Really a Christmas Football Match in the Trenches?

There have been many stories about a football match between British and German soldiers on Christmas Day 1914 and Paul McCartney even sang about it in his song “Pipes Of Peace” but did it really happen? It appears that it did!

Although there was no official truce at the time, roughly 100,000 British and German troops ceased fighting along the length of the Western Front. The first truce started on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in Ypres, Belgium and more so in Saint-Yvon (called Saint-Yves), in Plugstreet/Ploegsteert - Comines-Warneton).

Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather, who was there, has described how the German soldiers began by placing candles on the trenches and on trees and then sang Christmas carols. The British followed suit and sang carols back to them. The two sides then shouted Christmas greetings to each other. Soon afterwards, soldiers began to travel across No Man's Land in the middle of the trenches, to exchange small gifts, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and small souvenirs such as hats and buttons. Artillery fell silent and the truce allowed a chance for the retrieval of the bodies of recently killed soldiers to allow for burial. Joint Christmas services were also held in places.

The truth about the football match remained uncertain until a letter describing it was found by Rodney Barker whist sorting through papers of his uncle, Staff Sgt Clement Barker. Sgt Barker joined the army in 1902 aged 18 and served with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

He wrote the note to his brother Montague four days after the game in 1914, saying the short-lived ceasefire began after a German messenger crossed No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve to arrange it. In his own words:

"A messenger came over from German lines and said that if (our side) did not fire, they (the Germans) wouldn't in the morning (Xmas day)."

"A German looked over the trench - no shots - our men did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in and buried them and the next thing a football kicked out of our Trenches and Germans and English played football."

The football match did indeed happen but sadly, the war went on for four more years, with the loss of ten million lives.

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