Spartacus Blog

The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914

Wednesday, 24th December, 2014

John Simkin

Some newspapers have suggested that it was a myth that the Allies and the Germans played in a football match in No Mans Land during the Christmas Truce in December 1914. Mark Connelly, Professor of Modern British History at the Center for War, Propaganda and Society at the University of Kent has been quoted as saying that "the entire episode has been romanticized in the intervening years." He says "there is no absolute hard, verifiable evidence of a match" taking place and says "the event has been glorified beyond recognition". (1)

It is true that an account that appeared in The Times on 1st January 1915 about a football match won 3-2 by the Germans is inaccurate. Researchers have discovered that the units named in the report “were separated not only by geographical distance but also by the river Lys."

However, there is evidence from other sources that a football match did take place. For example, Company-Sergeant Major Frank Naden of the 6th Cheshire Territorials, told The Newcastle Evening Mail: “On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up. Our fellows immediately got out of theirs, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchanging food, cigarettes and souvenirs. The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff. The Scotsmen started the bagpipes and we had a rare old jollification, which included football in which the Germans took part. The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over. They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack knives and other articles. Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease but we did not fire at all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us.” (2)

Walter Tull at Tottenham Hotspur
BBC drama reconstruction of the first world war Christmas truce football match.

In 1983, Ernie Williams, who was a 19 year old serving in the 6th Cheshires appeared on television to tell his story of the football match on the Western Front at Wulverghem: “The ball appeared from somewhere, I don't know where, but it came from their side - it wasn't from our side that the ball came. They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kickabout. I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee - nothing like the soccer you see on television. The boots we wore were a menace - those great big boots we had on - and in those days the balls were made of leather and they soon got very soggy.” (3)

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J. A. Farrell, was reported in The Bolton Chronicle as saying: “In the afternoon there was a football match played beyond the trenches, right in full view of the enemy.” (4) According to The Guardian newspaper, the "German and British soldiers who famously played football with each other in no man's land on Christmas Day 1914 didn't always have a ball. Instead, they improvised. On certain sections of the front, soldiers kicked around a lump of straw tied together with string, or even an empty jam box." (5)

We also have a German account of a football match. Lieutenant Gustav Riebensahm, of the 2nd Westphalian Regiment, wrote in his diary: “The English are extraordinarily grateful for the ceasefire, so they can play football again. But the whole thing has become slowly ridiculous and must be stopped. I will tell the men that from this evening it's all over.” (6)



(1) James Masters, CNN (23rd December, 2014)

(2) Company-Sergeant Major Frank Naden, 6th Cheshire Territorials, The Newcastle Evening Mail (31st December, 1914)

(3) Ernie Williams, History Channel (1983)

(4) J. A. Farrell, was reported in The Bolton Chronicle (2nd January, 1915)

(5) Luke Harding, The Guardian (11th November, 2003)

(6) Lieutenant Gustav Riebensahm, 2nd Westphalian regiment, diary entry (December, 1914)


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