It was a rare moment of peace and goodwill amid the unrelenting brutality of World War I: the Christmas Day Truce of 1914, a spontaneous ceasefire on the battlefields of Flanders, during which British and German troops came out of their trenches to shake hands, sing Christmas Carols and even play a little soccer.
A report printed in the Guardian the day after the Christmas Truce described how in one part of the frontline, “every acre of meadow under any sort of cover in the rear of the lines was taken possession of for football.”
“A messenger come over from German lines and said that if [our side] did not fire, they wouldn’t in the morning [of Christmas Day],” wrote Staff Sergeant Clement Barker to his brother, Montague, of the event, as reported in December in the British Mirror.
“A German looked over the trench – no shots – our men did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in and buried them and the next thing a football kicked out of our trenches and Germans and English played football.”
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, which began on July 28, 1914, and the occasion will be marked with field trips to battlefields and exhibitions backed by various European governments. The U.K. has set aside $80 million for the events, reports the Daily Mail.
Around 10 million people died during World War I, including almost 1 million British troops and more than 100,000 Americans. The eight-year conflict fundamentally altered the Western world, erasing whole empires and clearing the way for decades of further tumult and revolution.
“I think football has a particular part to play. It is clear the Christmas Truce is going to be commemorated in a very significant way,” Murrison was quoted by the U.K. Guardian. “It had no real relevance to the outcome of the war but at that deeply, intensely, personal level, it is something that people really do latch on to.”
Two student ‘ambassadors’ and a teacher from every state-run secondary school in the U.K. are expected to be sent to visit the battlefields in northern France. The English Football Association and the National Children’s Football Alliance have reportedly also given their backing to the project.
Murrison said planning was at an early stage and “discussions are ongoing.”