World War I, Christmas 1914 , Belgian region of Flanders . At several points along the western front line, German, British and to a lesser extent French soldiers enacted a spontaneous, unofficial and authorized “ceasefire” . They came out of their trenches and timidly began to fraternize . Some claim that the Germans started it, singing Christmas carols and decorating their trenches with Christmas trees.
An agreement in principle, a gentleman’s handshake: “You don’t shoot, we don’t shoot”, so the soldiers met in no man’s land to fraternize, exchange food, gifts and souvenirs. They buried the fallen after common religious services, took souvenir photos together, drank liqueurs and even organized impromptu football matches . All this was remembered over the years as the Christmas Truce .
The match between the British and the French during the 1914 Christmas Truce
The events, however, were not immediately reported by the media: there was some self-censorship broken on December 31, 1914 by The New York Times , US magazine, country at that time still neutral. British newspapers followed this example and in the early days of 2015 reported numerous first-person accounts of the soldiers themselves, taken from letters sent to families .. In short, the truce was seen as a miraculous and positive gesture. On the other hand, the perception that there was in Germany was different , with many newspapers critical of the soldiers so much so that no images of the event were published.
In various areas of the front, the fighting continued throughout Christmas day, but it is also true that episodes of “cease-fire” also occurred in other areas. And with them also football matches. Soccer, “football”, in those years had by now taken hold as a pastime and entertainment both in Great Britain and in Germany. It is therefore likely that, taken by a moment of refreshment and joy, soldiers from both sides kicked a makeshift ball a couple of times .
The first news was collected and disseminated by The New York Times on January 1, 2015, with the publication of a letter written by a doctor of the Rifle Brigade , which spoke of
A football match … played between them and us in front of the trench
. The sculpture “All together now” by British artist Andrew Edwards
The most detailed of these stories, however, comes from the German side: the 133rd Royal Saxon regiment , in fact, tells of a match born by chance between Tommy’s formation and that of Fritz ( common names for the British and the Germans):
Frozen ground wasn’t a big problem. Then we organized each side into teams, lining up in multicolored lines, the butt in the center. The match ended 3-2 for Fritz’s team
It is difficult to say with certainty what happened: the result, however, is also confirmed in the writings of Robert Graves , a renowned British poet, writer and war veteran, who he reconstructed the meeting in a story published in 1962. In Graves’ version, the score remains 3-2 for the Germans, but the writer adds a series of imaginative nuances that give a touch of fiction and epicity.
What remains is the gesture, an act of freedom, of union, which sport, in all its forms, has always transmitted and conveyed.