The WWI Soccer Truce
IN 1914, A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE TOOK PLACE
A story about how the spirit of fellowship could momentarily disrupt the cause that soldiers swear an oath to uphold
A British soldier peeked up over the trench at the German trench opposite him and saw a string of lights. He asked another soldier what it was about. As they looked closer, they saw they strung the lights through Christmas trees the German soldiers put up along the trench line.
The Germans began singing Christmas songs and, after a few, the British also started singing, but not as well, the Brit noted, as the Germans. Soon, the soldiers waved white flags, emerged from their posts, and walked out into no-man’s-land to greet them.
This was the first Christmas of the brutal war. It littered the area between the two armies with the dead. It was the bloodiest fighting of the young war and had reached a stalemate. The soldiers had dug in. What had begun with a feeling of hope and confidence had given way to disillusionment and despair.
Along a 20 mile stretch of the front, the German soldiers waved their hands as they climbed out of their trenches. Many spoke English and called out to the British as they just wanted to exchange greetings and shake hands.
They shared chocolates and cigars. Both sides also had an affinity for football. Someone rolled a ball out, and the men began kicking it. No one was keeping score. It was just a bunch of guys blowing off steam.
The soldiers took off their jackets to construct makeshift goals. There were many men playing. It wasn’t well organized. The exercise was more of a chaotic melee. Weeks, days and just hours before, they were all trying to kill the other. Now, they were laughing and talking and spreading goodwill.
It had to be the largest Christmas truce in modern history.
Temporary ceasefires had been around since the Roman Empire. They are usually for clearing out casualties and allowing armies to rest and regroup.
What happened in 1914 was an uncoordinated, spontaneous truce. It happened because of the daily grind of living with the prospect of death and to remove the bodies of their friends, which must’ve been a grim reminder and daily sight to live with.
The impromptu soccer games were the primary draw. That’s what attracted most of the soldiers to momentarily set aside their arms. The English supermarket chain, Sainsbury, made a commercial to commemorate and dramatised how it might’ve been.
The officers didn’t know what was happening until it alerted them. Officers feared the soldiers would lose the will to fight and threatened the armies with disciplined measures if something like the soccer games happened again. Histories written about the event played down or omitted that it ever took place.
With the differences we have today, we should realize that the opposition is people too. There is too much rancor and division that is happening because of poor thinking and lacking leadership. It seems we have learned little since then.
It would be a much better world if we would just be able to recognise that we’re all the same and would go out and spend some time to visit and play a game for an afternoon.