The 1914 Christmas Day football match between the British and German trenches is now firmly part of World War I folklore, inspiring songs (The Farm – Altogether Now), this year’s festive Sainsbury’s advert and the FA commemorations ahead of last weekend’s Premiership and Championship matches.
Now, according to a previously unpublished letter penned by a General on the front line, it has been confirmed that the famous football match was the talk of the trenches at the time too.
Soldiers sharing cigars, singing songs and walking about together in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914 are some of the scenes described in a rare, never seen before letter uncovered by Staffordshire County Council’s Archives Service.
In a letter to his wife, written on Christmas Day, General Walter Congreve VC explains the extraordinary circumstances around the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Congreve, who led the Rifles Brigade, was positioned at British Headquarters near Neuve Chapelle in Northern France. In his letter, he recalls how it was the Germans who had called for a day’s truce, which was agreed to when one of his men bravely came out of the trenches to agree to it. Officers and men on both sides met in No Man’s Land where they shook hands and exchanged cigarettes and cigars. A British Captain is said to have talked with the German Colonel and “smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army”, a lad of no more than 18 years old.
In the letter, Congreve also talks of his reluctance to join in the truce himself, for fear of the Germans not being able to resist a shot at him because of his rank as a General. And, the talk of the trenches was of a game of football between the German and British soldiers taking place earlier that day further along the lines.
Cllr Ben Adams, Cabinet Member responsible for Archives at Staffordshire County Council said: “The 1914 Christmas Day Truce is one of the iconic memories of World War One and to have such a detailed account from a high ranking officer, written on the actual day is a real gem.”
The Christmas Truce is believed to have been in place from Christmas Eve for around 48 hours, although in some sections of the line it is reported to have lasted much longer.
The letter was donated to Staffordshire’s Archives Service by members of the Congreve family and will be on display at the National Memorial Arboretum, in Alrewas, until Christmas Day.
In the video above you can listen to a reading of the letter by the Staffordshire Poet Laureate, Gary Longdon or you can visit the Staffordshire Great War website to read the full letter.
In the video below, Costumed interpreter Paul Thompson reads the rare Christmas Truce letter by General Walter Congreve at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
The letter is available to view at Staffordshire’s Record Office. Go to www.staffordshiregreatwar.com for more information