May I just say what a pleasure and honour it is to be able to write about such an important event in World War 1. As part of WU Hstry’s World War 1 remembrance project, I take us to one of the most iconic moments in history, the day where all of the bombs and gun shots stopped: Where for one day, the soldiers who for months had been shooting at each other ceased, and food, carols, a love of football were all shared. Although in some areas the war dragged on, for those many who had thought that the war would be over by Christmas, this would prove to be at least some sort of happiness. Throughout this post I will show clips of how the truce is highlighted in modern media and popular culture, and discuss the history of the truce. Though we may all enjoy Christmas, take a moment to remember those on that day, who wanted to be in the position we will be, who fought for our freedom and who lost friends along the way.
The first bit of media I have chosen which I feel highlights the spirit of the Christmas Truce is the 2014 Sainsbury’s Christmas campaign, which shows the magic of the occasion. It emphasises that it did come straight in the middle of the war with the noises being heard in the background, but this moment provides a bit of hope to the soldiers that the world would not be doomed to chaos. This advert further captures the magic of the moment by showing that both sides sang carols with each other. This rendition of silent night puts your hairs on edge like you were there at that moment. The advert captures the fact that the soldiers did in fact swap possessions and in particular the happiness of the occasion. Before this moment they would not have had much to smile about, but this highlights the unusual contrasting emotion to what was expected on the battlefield. What really makes this advert special is the fact it illustrates just how important football would have been on that day in 1914. It would have made the soldiers feel like children again, shown through the way jackets were used as goal posts and there was no limit on the number of players on the team, not too dissimilar to many playground football today. It emphasises the magic of Christmas, one which no matter what side you were on created peace.
Although the violence still continued in some areas along the front, the Sainsbury’s advert really gives a good insight into what the day was all about. The fact that for one day, attacks along some areas of the trenches were hated and instead the Christmas spirit completely made everyone forget about enemies and rather festivities and joy were shared amongst the soldiers.
Paul McCartney further shows the magic of Christmas and the Truce through his song Pipes of Peace in 1983, and what a great song it is too. The Pipes of Peace, Paul McCartney further captures the magic of the moment of the truce, and he captures the fact that the men aren’t as different as they thought, emphasised through the fact that Paul himself plays both the German and the British soldier. Through doing so, it shows that soldiers realised that they were not as different as they first thought, that the enemy was like them. It shows the watchers the magic of the moment through the fact it focuses on the swapping of photos and presents, the match, the music video really acts upon highlighting the importance of the moment: the enjoyment that was had at a time where it was hard to have any. This is a point picked up in other songs, such as Jona Lewie’s Stop the Cavalry:
The hit of 1980 picks upon the fact that many British soldiers did indeed believe that they would be home for Christmas. One of the few things that would have been keeping them going throughout the war is the dream of being back home for Christmas with their respective families, and once these dreams did not come true it would have damaged morale massively. This song emphasises this point, with the catchy line ‘Wish I was at home for Christmas’ evident throughout: this moment provided the soldiers with some hope, hope that they could live in a world that was not killing each other. It makes a change from the other 2 media I have chosen due to the fact it highlights rather the sadness of what could have been of Christmas in the trenches. For those who were not involved in the truce will not have known the day was any different from the others.
Therefore the Christmas Truce for those involved was certainly an important and iconic event due to the fact that for a few, even if it was a small minority, it provide a hope that the world could live without conflict being the main answer to everything. For the soldiers to enjoy football, a game of two teams out on no man’s land, and area which itself had seen a different kind of game between the two teams, emphasises just how important a moment this was. For however long the match lasted, all hate was forgotten and the soldiers ended up like children just wanting to play the beautiful game, no matter where it was. What mattered was setting up two goals and having a good ball. For just a few hours, the men who gave their lives for us to have a future in which we are safe and can enjoy. Many football fans can relate to the 90 minutes in which they forget everything in the outside world and just focus on the game and how it was played. Even if it did only happen to a few people on that day in 1914, it showed the world that violence is not the only answer, and although all your answers can’t be found on the pitch, it can certainly be a better alternative.
Being able to write about the Christmas Truce is an honour. After reading The Final Season The Footballers Who Fought and Died in the Great War by Nigel McCrery, it made me realise just how influential football was to the war effort, and although these men were stars back home, they were still somebody’s son on the battlefield. They helped to keep morale high by playing in mini matches, but gave their lives for their country and their fellow-man. They like so many they gave their lives to give us a better future.
Before tucking into your Christmas dinner, just remember the brave men whose presence graced No Man’s Land, who did not get to enjoy Christmas like they were promised so often at the beginning of the War campaign. Be thankful for their actions, and never forget their contribution. Thanks for reading this post, and have a great Christmas, lest we forget.