When the War stopped for football

The 1914 Christmas truce may have been for essential repair work but it did involve a game of football.

The horror of fighting in World War One has been well scripted throughout the 100th anniversary year.

But it was the apparent outbreak of peace and goodwill on Christmas Day 1914 that stood out as a symbolic moment.

A ceasefire took place in the trenches followed by something extraordinary is said to have happened: a game of football between troops in No Man’s Land.

Re-enactments have taken place in Europe, mainly in the battlegrounds of Belgium. And, with millions sent to fight in the war, it’s no surprise how many of those involved in memorial events have family who fought.

“It’s probably the only time in the history that you had two opposing armies lay down their arms and be friends,” said re enactor Chris Barker at an event arranged by UEFA in Belgium.

It’s probably the only time in the history that you had two opposing armies lay down their arms and be friends

by Chris Barker, Re-enactor

Shortly before Christmas this year, teams from the British and German army played out a full match in Aldershot, home of the British army.

The truce had become most prominent in the UK but the German representatives in Aldershot felt it was a special occasion for all.

“We have many days to commemorate the 100 years since the beginning of World War 1, 75 years since the beginning of World War II but this is the greatest event I have experienced,” Parliamentary State Secretary Dr Ralf Brauksiepe told Al Jazeera.

When the carol “Silent Night’ was played in German and then in English ahead of the game and the new generation quietly pays its respects, you tangibly sense what it was like at the war 100 years ago. And why there is a need to hold on to this symbolic moment of peace.

Perhaps it was also telling that the match, which the British Army won 1-0, was fiercely competitive. A reminder that while football is not a battle – as is quite often described – the pride runs through a soldier as much as it did 100 years ago in the trenches.

Letters from servicemen exist that confirm that some football did take place but the football was only a small part of the extraordinary truce.

“The main thing that took part in the Christmas truce was soldiers coming into No Man’s Land swapping food, badges, buttons and also burying the dead from the attacks,” historian Alan Wakefield explains at the Imperial War Museum in south London.

“The other thing they did during that time was to rebuild the trenches.”

Alan, author of ‘Christmas in the Trenches’ pointed out that due to the amount of rain, the trenches has been flooded.

Both sides realised they needed time to repair those trenches and it was in everyone’s interests of have a ceasefire.

And as Bob Gamble of the Royal British Legion put it, “during a lull in fighting, and before the serious fighting, as young people do all over the world in close proximity to each other and when a ball is available, sport took place”.

The need for people to say thank you to those who served their country was encapsulated by a quarter of a million people buying poppies at the Tower of London.

The truce story provides a similar opportunity for people to show interest, empathy and understanding with those who are gone but not forgotten.

Source: Al Jazeera