Christmas Truce

December 4th, 2014

Ilkeston Methodist Church will be at Ilkeston Town FC, the new Manor Ground, Ilkeston on 20 December to hold an event to commemorate the 1914 Christmas Truce. The event will include the singing of Silent Night and an impromptu game of football between German and British solders.

Carol singing will take place before the scheduled 3.00 pm kick off. Representatives of the church will be at the ground from 2.15 to 2.50 when they will sing carols and present a dramatised reading telling the story of the Christmas Truce and also the Christmas story. 500 commemorative booklets will be distributed telling the story and including the words to well known carols.

The plans are in line with similar events being organised by churches at Football stadia throughout the country during December. The event planned at Ilkeston is one of over 400 organised by churches all over the country. If you want to know more about this initiative there is information on www.hopetogether.org.uk

As well as churches, many other community groups will be thinking of the centenary of the Christmas truce and a commemorative event to celebrate a remarkable example of man’s capability of humanity to man. It seems incredible now that, in the middle of unprecedented death and destruction, peace spontaneously broke out between the sides.

The Christmas truce football match is embedded in the national memory, but it is debatable whether it actually happened. There are references to a match and that the score was 3-2 to the Germans, but seemingly no definite statement that anyone saw it, or took part in it. One of these accounts was reported in the Times on January 1st, 1915, but this too is a statement that a match took place between the two sides, but not that the author himself took part, or that he saw it. This account, and another citing a match with a score of 3-2, have different military units taking part, meaning that the locations for the match would be miles apart and on either side of a river.

The Imperial War Museum have conducted extensive searches of their collections, but come up with no evidence of the match ever happening. Imagine trying to play any sort of organised football match on ground which had been under bombardment for a number of weeks.

There are several references to footballs being produced and both sides getting involved in a kickabout, but no score and no claim that it was actually a match as such. These memories would seem to be nearer a truth.

An account of such a kickabout was given in a television interview in 1983, corroborating an article in the Newcastle Evening Mail in December 1914 given by another member of the same regiment who was on leave after the truce. The television interviewee recalled that there were “..a couple of hundred taking part.” And that “There was no referee and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee!”

What is certain is that peace did break out along the Western Front, although not along the full length, some sections of the battle lines did continue to fight. Most accounts of the truce recall the exchange of gifts of all kinds from the food parcels sent by families; bread and possibly cake and certainly cigarettes. A very common thread in the accounts is the singing of hymns and carols from the trenches.

Whether or not the football match took place is for historians to debate, the purpose of the many football matches due to take place around Britain is the remembrance of the brave men who fought and the celebration of humanity in the midst of such carnage.