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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Christmas day 1914 - 1918, did they fight?


Barry Russell

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Did the BEF & the Germans launch attacks on Christmas day each year? We've all heard about the game of football, but how true is it? Greatly exaggerated? I've always seen school history books tell of a large and wonderful game of Soccer, but what really happened?

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There  has been dispute for years about the football. Of course, there was never a formal match as we might see one today. But a kickabout in No Mans Land certainly took place in the sector in front of Messines. Even here, some historians have dismissed the evidence of two Cheshire Regiment men - one because his letter home in January 1915 was considered not to contain sufficient information and the other dismissed as being the false memory of an old man. Information has recentyl come to light in the diary of one of that battalion's officer which provides a cast iron record that the kickabout took place (validating the comments of the other two of the 6th Cheshires.

 

The Christmas truce, as such, was in a very limited area and, outside of this, deaths occured on both sides.  The War Graves Commission records 148 death on 25 December 1914. Some will be deaths at home, died of wounds, etc but most are going to be killed in action. I havent looked at the other years but would guess the figures will be higher.

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Googling "Invisionzone Christmas truce" leads to half-a-dozen earlier threads about the 1914 occasion and several appear to discuss the football match.

 

Moonraker

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10 hours ago, John_Hartley said:

There  has been dispute for years about the football. Of course, there was never a formal match as we might see one today. But a kickabout in No Mans Land certainly took place in the sector in front of Messines. Even here, some historians have dismissed the evidence of two Cheshire Regiment men - one because his letter home in January 1915 was considered not to contain sufficient information and the other dismissed as being the false memory of an old man. Information has recentyl come to light in the diary of one of that battalion's officer which provides a cast iron record that the kickabout took place (validating the comments of the other two of the 6th Cheshires.

 

The Christmas truce, as such, was in a very limited area and, outside of this, deaths occured on both sides.  The War Graves Commission records 148 death on 25 December 1914. Some will be deaths at home, died of wounds, etc but most are going to be killed in action. I havent looked at the other years but would guess the figures will be higher.

 

John. Would it be fair to say there was no proper football in this kick about and it was a small rubber ball?

 

like most debates it comes down to how one of definitions. In this instance what one accepts as 'football'.

 

Separately, over 70 British soldiers were killed on Christmas Day 1914 in areas where football was alleged to have been played. Presumably they were not shot for being offside. 

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18 minutes ago, QGE said:

Would it be fair to say there was no proper football in this kick about and it was a small rubber ball

Absolutely.

 

My cast iron evidence confirming a kickabout took place (which I include in my history of 6th Cheshires), is one sentence in 2nd Lt Charles Brockbank's diary entry for the day. The diary has recently come onto the possession of the regimental museum. He writes in some detail about being in No Man's Land and includes the sentence " “Someone produced a rubber ball so, of course, a football match started.”

 

It validates Ernie Williams radio interview which he gave as an old man and which had been dismissed by some professional historians.

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 nineteen. 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 other 6th Cheshire commenting was Sgt Frank Naden (later Lt Colonel). He wrote home in the February mentioning the truce and the football " in which the Germans took part.”  I believe his account has also been ignored because the wording was considered to be second hand information.  However, tied in with the other two accounts, it provides evidence that this was not football just being played behind the lines by the Brits (of which there are documented accounts.

 

Although I have not seen it, I understand there is an account by a Norfolk Regiment soldier which also describes the football. This is significant in that, at the time , the Cheshire companies had been split up and assigned to the brigade's regular army battalions in the front line. Brockbank and Naden were both serving with the company attached to the Norfolks.

 

 

 

 

Edited by John_Hartley
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