100th anniversary of Christmas truce

"This remembrance ceremony pays tribute to the soldiers who expressed, a hundred years ago, their humanity by playing football together."

100th anniversary of Christmas truce

Picture: Press Association

Dignitaries gathered in Belgium on Thursday to mark the 100th anniversary of the Christmas truce between German and Allied troops during the First World War.

Football’s European governing body UEFA hosted a special event in the area where hostilities between the warring sides were suspended in one of the most famous acts of the Great War.

It was there that British and German soldiers laid down their weapons in No Man’s Land at Christmas 1914 to share greetings, treats, mementoes and a game of football during the unofficial ceasefire.

The Germans placed trees illuminated with candles on the parapet of their trenches and sang Christmas carols as the war raged on nearby.

Troops from both camps were able to bury their dead who had fallen in No Man’s Land, repair their trenches and share cigars during the temporary ceasefire.

Despite fraternisation with the enemy being punishable, the truce was maintained into January 1915, with many testimonies of the lull reported in letters by soldiers to their families.

It was a period of light relief in the midst of the bloodiest conflict the world had known, which ended when the Armistice was signed on November 11 1918.

Soldiers ignored war and celebrated Christmas in peace along several places on the front line, including at Ploegsteert Wood, Comines-Warneton, known as Plugstreet to the British.

In Ploegsteert, Mr Platini addressed a remembrance ceremony before inaugurating a monument in a muddy field at Warneton alongside local mayor Gilbert Deleu.

Uefa president Michel Platini (left) and Gilbert Deleu, Mayor of Comines-Warneton, unveil a football monument in Ploegsteert, Belgium, marking the 100th anniversary of the Christmas truce between German and Allied troops during the First World War.

Picture: Press Association

Platini said: “This remembrance ceremony pays tribute to the soldiers who expressed, a hundred years ago, their humanity by playing football together.

“They have opened an important chapter in the construction of the European community and gave example for today’s young generations.”

It is hoped the inauguration of the monument, close to British and German trenches, will remind young generations of the major role sport has played in the world’s history.

Eckart Cuntz, Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, said: “The message from here was that human beings, if they want to stop killing each other, they can do it.

“Of course, the superiors didn’t like it but on some places of the front, (the truce) lasted until even the new year.”

10th Essex Regiment Great War Living History Group member Chris Barker at the UEFA football monument unveiling in Ploegsteert, Belgium

Picture: Press Association

He added: “Those who were called the enemies, sometimes monsters, they were human beings. Celebrating Christmas together, singing Silent Night, and after that, here in Ploegsteert, it was a British soldier who had as a Christmas gift a football and suggested a football match.”

In the week leading up to Thursday’s event, teams posed for combined photographs ahead of matches as part of Football Remembers to mark the truce.

The Football Remembers programme is being carried out by the Premier League, the FA, the Football League and British Council and includes work with schools across the UK.

Ken Skates, Wales’s deputy minister for culture, sport and tourism, said: “A century ago when war was so frequent, something magical happened.

“Through Christmas spirit, the sound of war was silenced and soldiers from opposing sides laid down their weapons and exchanged photographs and gifts.

“One of the most remarkable moments in our history was united by a common interest – in football.”

Tomorrow the Duke of Cambridge will attend the Football Remembers Memorial dedication honouring the Christmas story at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

William, the FA’s president, chose the design for the memorial, by 10-year-old Spencer Turner from Newcastle, with England and Arsenal player Theo Walcott.

Next week, British Army footballers will take on their German counterparts in a match called the Game of Truce at Aldershot Town’s stadium in Hampshire – a town with close military links.

Research released by the British Council this year found that the Christmas truce was one of the most recognised moments of the First World War, with more than two-thirds of UK adults aware.

Memories of the truce have recently been revived in the Sainsbury’s Christmas television advert in which a moment of friendship is shared between a British soldier and a German.

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