IMAGO / United Archives International

Christmas Truce in WWI, Shooting a Football instead of Bullets

In the winter of 1914, after six months of World War I, songs and a football were exchanged instead of bullets in the two trenches between German and English soldiers. It was Christmas, and Germans started to celebrate with English soldiers in the middle of the battle, something that later was called Christmas Truce.

During World War I, there was an unofficial cease-fire, known as the Christmas Truce, which took place in the war zone on 24 and 25 December 1914. Although the truce was not widely followed and not approved by commanders on either side, all gunfire between German and English soldiers fell silent for a whole day.

“During the early part of the morning, the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: ‘Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so, we will come halfway, and you come the other half.”
This was part of a letter written by English soldier Rifleman J. Reading to his wife, describing how they began not to fight on Christmas Day.

IMAGO / United Archives International
IMAGO / United Archives International | Group of German soldiers with two English soldiers, one in a long coat and one in a balaclava.

IMAGO / United Archives International
IMAGO / United Archives International | British and German officers in No Man’s Land during the unofficial truce, Christmas 1914.

Later, the Germans started to get closer and began to talk to the other side or their enemies. Rifleman, in the other part of the letter, says: “They came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them. Of course, neither of us had any rifles. I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet that it seemed like a dream.”

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a ball appeared in the battle of the war, and soldiers started a football match. One of the English soldiers later said, “The ball appeared from somewhere, but I don’t know where. They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kick-about. I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part.”

But the German soldier “Kurt Zehmisch” wrote the ball came from the English side: “Eventually the English brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”

The tale of the Christmas Truce is told in several first-world war images, letters, and diaries. Unfortunately, it never happened again during the First World War following that year. Something that, in the words of the soldiers who experienced it, “was like a dream” and “managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a while”.

See the curated collection on Christmas Truce in WWI.

IMAGO / United Archives International
IMAGO / United Archives International | Rue de Bois. Completing breastworks during Christmas truce . At this point Germans were only 40 yards away , also working in the open , 1914.

IMAGO / agefotostock
IMAGO / agefotostock | British and Germans meet in No Man’s Land during unofficial true Christmas, 1914.

See the IMAGO collection here:

Christmas 1914