A Football Game Was Part Of Famous Christmas Truce During World War I

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Sometimes there are stories and fables that remain fresh in our minds for decades.

One for me is a short story I read years ago while taking a freshman world history class at Arizona State University.

I remember the reading was assigned just before the Christmas holidays and was followed by an hour-long discussion among the students and professor.

One of the things that helped catch my attention was the story also involved football.

And, oh yes, there was a Scrooge in it.

If memory serves me, the story was “The Christmas Truce,” and involved the unofficial cessations of ferocious World War I battles involving German and British troops.

As I remember the story, on Christmas Eve near the front lines, German troops began decorating their trenches and foxholes with candles. The decorating soon turned into the singing of Christmas carols, including the German version of “Silent Night.”

Soon, British troops got into the Christmas spirit and chimed in with their own carols.

The singing eventually prompted friendly verbal exchanges across the battlefield.

Soon, the two sides visited one another exchanging small gifts like cigars, whisky, biscuits and ham, and chocolate.

Eventually, one of the troops produced a ball, which led to a spontaneous game of football, pitting the British against the Germans.

The game resembled a free-for-all or kick ball more than it did football, but it helped extend the truce between the two warring sides.

As I remember the story, the game went on for more than half-an-hour and no one kept score.

It seems that the real Scrooge in this Christmas story were the British commanders who learned of the truce and the gridiron game.

The big wigs ordered no such cessations should again take place and began rotating their troops on the front lines so they would not become too friendly or familiar with their German counterparts.

In the years that followed, commanders ordered artillery bombardments on Christmas Eve to ensure there would be no further Christmas exchanges or football games.

Wow, those military officers make Scrooge look like Kris Kringle.

Others who read or heard of this story must have thought it as poignant as I did, because country music star Garth Brooks told of it in his song “Belleau Wood.” The opening stanzas are:

Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence

Over Belleau Wood that night

For a Christmas truce had been declared

By both sides of the fight

As we lay there in our trenches

The silence broke in two

By a German soldier singing

A song that we all knew

Though I did not know the language

The song was “Silent Night”

Folk singer John McCutcheon also sang of the truce in “Christmas in the Trenches.”

In 2006, singer Chris de Burgh purchased at an auction an original letter from an unknown British soldier that tells of events with the Germans on a night he called, “the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent.”

On Nov. 11, 2008 in France, a memorial was built and a remembrance held at the site of the Christmas Truce football game.

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