In honour of the 1914 Christmas Truce and the game of football that is reputed to have taken place in no man’s land, the British Army’s Football Team will again take on their German counterparts in a commemorative match called ‘The Game of Truce’ on Wednesday 17th December (KO 19:30).
In a collaborative venture between the Football Association, the Army and Aldershot Town Football Club, the game will fittingly take place at the home of Aldershot Town, the ES Stadium, in a location at the very heart of the home of the British Army. The match will be the culmination of the FA’s ‘Football Remembers ’ in which players, staff and fans have been encouraged to pay their respects and commemorate those who swapped football boots for Army boots one hundred years ago.
It is expected to be an extremely competitive game between two evenly-matched military teams. High profile guests will include FA Chairman Greg Dyke, Head of the Army General Sir Nicholas Carter and a number of football personalities both past and present.
Tickets for the game are priced at £3 for adults and £1 for U18s and concessions, and are available through Aldershot Town FC. All proceeds from the match will be donated to the Royal British Legion and the German Military’s equivalent charity. It will also be possible to pay on the day at the turnstiles.
The Game of Truce is the only joint Army – FA commemoration planned for the First World War centenary. It honours the spirit of the 1914 Christmas Truce using the international language of football and is a fitting commemoration to the men on both sides who spent Christmas 1914 in the trenches.
THE ‘GAME OF TRUCE’ BACKGROUND
By December 1914 a continuous line of trenches stretched over 750km from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. This was the Western Front over which a struggle of unprecedented brutality would rage for the next four years. The opening battles in a war of movement which had marked the start of the conflict just four months earlier had gone. The dreadful battles of attrition by which this first ‘total war’ would later be characterised had yet to start.
The winter of 1914-15 was a harsh one. ‘Earth stood as hard as iron, water like a stone’ were particularly apt lines when the ability to dig into the former and drink the latter was essential for mere survival. There was a common aim and shared struggle to survive these woeful conditions by friend and foe alike. Culturally too, men of opposing sides shared more in common with each other than we might realise. It was not uncommon for a Saxon soldier in the German lines to have worked as a barber in the East End of London or for a British soldier to have sung carols around a fir tree decked with lights, a tradition introduced by Queen Victoria’s late husband Prince Albert.
So it was no real surprise when on Christmas Eve 1914 those same carols started to drift across no-man’s land. The tune was the same. The words and their meaning was the same. Only the language was different. As a population far more religiously minded than our own, the Christian message of peace and harmony chimed loudly amongst those manning that seemingly god-forsaken stretch of blasted earth. So the next day the famous Christmas Truce came to pass. Men met in no-man’s land. They shook hands. They swopped cigarettes and cigars, schnapps and whiskey, stories and jokes. They showed each other pictures of their wives, sweethearts and children and they took photographs of one another.
So what part did football play in all of this? There can be no doubt that many of the men who met that day would have shared a common and passionate interest in the game. Attendances at pre-war matches were huge and avid discussions about teams and players took place. One officer in a Highland Regiment found himself deep in conversation with a German Sergeant who had toured Britain in 1913 with the Leipzig team which beat Glasgow Celtic 1-0. Out of the line, fiercely competitive matches took place between platoons, companies and battalions. Sadly, despite extensive, detailed research there is no unequivocal evidence to prove that what we might regard as a ’match’ took place that day between the opposing sides. What there is can at best be regarded as hearsay.
However, there is no doubt that there was a clear intent by both sides to play a game of football against one another. A number of contemporary written accounts clearly confirm this. Sadly, as we now know, the realities of the conflict meant that any prospect of playing football was quickly extinguished by the resumption of hostilities.
To mark that truly unique and significant occasion and to honour the memory of those on both sides who made the ultimate sacrifice, there can be no better way to fulfil that clear intent than to play a special game of football. To that end on 17th December 2014 the Army Football Association XI will play a German Armed Forces XI at Aldershot in the 100th Anniversary ‘Game of Truce.’