The Centenary of the Truce
Below we take a look at the legacy of the Christmas Truce, as well as the events that took place during the Centenary of the Truce in 2014.
The Legacy of the Truce
History is a wonderful thing in that it not only gives us a chance to learn from our mistakes in the past, but also to champion those occasions when the human race does something to be truly proud of. At the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle referred to the Christmas Truce as “one human episode amid all the atrocities, which have stained the memory of the war”. He was right.
It is clear from the news articles and letters from the front at the time, just what an impact the Christmas Truce had on the human psyche. The soldiers who took part in the truce were themselves amazed that they were suddenly exchanging gifts and pleasantries with the same men they had been shooting at just the day before. It must have been a surreal experience to say the least.
However, the Christmas Truce was not actually reported in the newspapers to begin with, as there was an unofficial press embargo that held back on reporting the news. Eventually, the embargo was broken by the New York Times on the 31st December, and following this the British papers also started to print stories of the truce, including numerous first-hand accounts from soldiers at the front.
Meanwhile, in Germany there was far less coverage in the papers, with many articles strongly criticising those that took part. In France, there was no coverage at all to begin with, due to the stricter censorship of the press. When a report did finally come out, it was in the form of a government notice, warning that fraternising with the enemy constituted treason.
Perhaps this negative cloud that initially covered the truce was the reason that it was hardly mentioned much at all in the years following the war. Indeed, it was not until the 1960’s that references to the Christmas Truce first began appearing in the media; in the song, “Snoopy’s Christmas”, and a scene in the musical film, “Oh! What a Lovely War”.
However, it was not until the eighties and nineties that the Christmas Truce really gained public attention, in songs such as Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace”, The Farm’s “All Together Now” and the wonderful “Christmas in the Trenches”, by John McCutcheon.
Events to Mark The Centenary
By the turn of the century, more and more references to the Christmas Truce were now appearing in the media, in the lead up to the Centenary of the First World War.
In 2005, the film “Joyeux Noël” actually depicted a fictionalised account of the truce, through the eyes of French, Scottish and German soldiers. Then, on the 11th November 2008, a Christmas Truce memorial was unveiled in the small village of Frelinghien, situated on the Franco-Belgian frontier.
Also on the 11th November 2008, The Royal Welch Fusiliers played a football match with the German Battalion 371 at the spot where their regimental ancestors had came out from their trenches, on Christmas Day 1914, to play a game of football. The Germans won the match 2–1.
Then, in 2014, there were a series of events throughout the United Kingdom to mark the Centenary of the Christmas Truce and also to commemorate World War 1. These events began as early as May 2014, when a Football Remembers education pack, arranged and supported by the Premier League, The Football Association, the Football League and the British Council, was sent out to more than 30,000 schools across the country.
Included as part of this project was a UK-wide competition to design a Football Remembers memorial to the World War One Christmas Truce. The competition was won by a ten-year-old schoolboy, called Spencer Turner, and the memorial was unveiled in December 2014, at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and the England football manager, Roy Hodgson.
Another event organised under the umbrella of Football Remembers, was a game played between British and German forces at Aldershot Town’s football stadium, on the 17th December 2014. Aldershot is known as the “Home of the British Army”, and so was considered to be a very suitable venue for the match to take place. The British soldiers ended up winning the game 1-0.
UEFA also commemorated the special part that football may have played in the truce with a memorial service in Belgium, where a sculpture was unveiled by UEFA President, Michel Platini. A video was also created by UEFA to remember the Christmas Truce, featuring footballers from Great Britain, France and Germany.
Such was the media coverage of the truce in 2014, and in particular the football match, that the supermarket giant, Sainsbury’s, also shot a high quality short film based on the truce for their Christmas advert that year. The 3 minute 40 second advert was made in partnership with The Royal British Legion and was inspired by the events that took place during the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Although the cinematography of the advert, which centred around a moment of friendship and a bar of chocolate between a British and German soldier, was quite outstanding, Sainsbury’s immediately came under fire, being accused of exploiting the Christmas Truce and disrespecting the memory of those soldiers who lay down their lives during World War One.
Despite the complaints that flooded in following Sainsbury’s depiction of the truce, there is no doubt that it played its part, along with UEFA and the Football Remembers project, in educating an entire nation about a wonderful event that took place a century before. A single human episode amid all the atrocities that this generation shall always remember.
Despite a lack of interest in the Christmas Truce in the first few decades after the First World War, and even some negative press during the war and immediately after it, from the nineteen eighties onwards the truce has become an important symbol of peace.