German troops take advantage of the unofficial ceasefire to sing seasonal songs in their trench (Alamy Stock Photo)

6 – Christmas Day footie match WW1

1914

THE guns had been spitting out their deadly hail for four months and three weeks by the time Christmas Eve came round.

But on that day they fell silent.

All along the Western Front front many British and German soldiers laid down their weapons and joined together in unexpected moments of peace and friendship.

And Scottish troops were at the heart of the unofficial truce that went on between December 24 and 26.

It was a bitterly cold winter’s day when the truces began breaking out. The temperature was below freezing and snow had begun to fall in places.

It began when the strains of Silent Night could be heard wafting sweetly over the parapets of German trenches.

In some areas men cautiously crept out into No Man’s Land to shake hands, drink schnapps, swap tobacco, chocolate and buttons, and show each other photos of family and sweethearts.

John Ferguson, of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, recalled: “Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lit matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs.”

And where the Scots were involved there was bound to be football!

There were reports of several football matches being played between opposing armies.

The 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment were said to have played a game against ‘Scottish troops’, while the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders took on unidentified Germans – with the Scots reported to have won 4-1 (if only that scoreline had been repeated in recent times).

The official history of the 133rd Saxon Regiment describes “caps casually laid down as goals” and Teutonic astonishment that Scottish players were wearing nothing under their kilts!

The details of the actual events are scant and some have the air more of myth than reality, but it is certainly true that something unusual and special took place on the killing fields of France and Belgium that Christmas.

And would it be surprising that football was a part of that coming together?

Of course not.

It may be a tribal sport, and one not exactly unfamiliar with clashes, rivalry and battles itself. But at its core it has the power to bring people together in a shared love of the game.

In those dark, dark days it was something that the young soldiers on all sides could identify with, regardless of what language they spoke.

The simple camaraderie of booting a leather ball between makeshift goalposts was enough to overcome – if only for a short while – the bombs and bullets of war.

The men who took part in those games are long since gone, but the memory of what it represented lives on.