In England, Boxing Day or the day after Christmas sees a traditional round of football matches take place up and down the country. The beautiful game has been proven over the years to bridge gaps, bring people together and give hope where politically there may not be. Today marks the 99th anniversary of one of these individual games that changed the world, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst and sometimes only for 90 minutes, but all powerful nonetheless.
It is known as the Christmas truce of 1914 and this is the story. Temperatures dropped to below freezing in France where the two opposing forces wait in their trenches. No mans land lays between them and the enemy barely five months into the 52-month conflict, which would claim over nine million combatants lives and leave many times more either wounded or missing in action.
On Christmas Eve, lights appeared all across the German side of no mans land and the British prepared for a German attack. Waiting for the first sound of rifle fire, they were taken aback when a different sound would reach their ear, signing. ‘Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht’ were the words drifting across the icy scene. The British responded with their own Christmas songs and before to long it was food being thrown from one trench to the other rather than grenades. Christmas trees were put up and for a moment the enemies became curious about the other.
Finally, a German appeared from the trenches holding a small lighted tree, he said something to the effect of ‘Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.’ Slowly the men from both sides climbed out of the trenches and into no man’s land. There they met the enemy but instead of exchanging gunfire or punches the exchanged addresses and cigarettes. By now, I feel it was clear to everyone that the war was going to be lasting for quite some time and many of them would never return.
Along with merriment though, it was also a chance to recover and bury some of the fallen. In some accounts, both sides were present for one particular burial and read the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me lay down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’
The truce spread for most of the Western front and around Ypres, France is where the famous game started, although reports of other sporadic games are also on record. Some games of soccer happened with caps and helmets marking out the goals and old food cans as the ball. This particular one was initiated when a soccer ball was kicked out from the British trench and a game ensued. Did anyone keep score? Did anyone really care about a score? The game was the last palpitation of the 19th century in so much that it was the last public display of kindness and that it was assumed people were not only nice but that they could get better.
In some sectors, the truce only lasted the day. In others, it lasted until New Years day. But when it did end, it signaled the last of its kind. The war would continue for four years after that moment and another War would start just over 20 years later. It is said that in order to start a war, you first need to find an enemy. Well, on Christmas Day 1914, war was stopped, if only temporarily, because enemies not seen, but friends found.
Jason Bardwell is a Soccer writer for Rant Sports and The Sports Column. You can follow him on Twitter @PACityboy or on Facebook.