World War I
During the first World War, a general’s letter revealed details of British and German Soldiers playing soccer and exchanging Christmas gifts during a one-day truce in 1914. Quote.
A letter documenting the day when British and German troops laid down their arms, exchanged gifts and played a game of soccer at Christmas in 1914 has been uncovered in England.
The letter, written from the trenches in France by a high-ranking British general to his wife, has been made public to mark the centenary of the truce.
The story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 is already well-known, and has inspired many artistic endeavors, including an advertisement this year by a British supermarket chain.
But the letter, from General Walter Congreve to his wife, is a rare first-hand account of the event.
Writing from France on Christmas Day 100 years ago, General Congreve described to his wife how when he took Christmas gifts from his mother of toffees, cigarettes, pencils and writing paper down to the trenches he heard about “an outstanding state of affairs”.
“This morning, a German shouted out that they wanted a day’s truce, and would one come out if they did?” he wrote.
“So, very cautiously, one of our men lifted himself above the parapet, and saw a German doing the same – both got out, then more.”
The general described how the German and British soldiers then exchanged cigars, sang together and played soccer.
“Officers, as well as the men, were out and the German colonel himself was talking to one of our captains,” he wrote.
He also wrote of how the truce had exposed the position of a young man considered the German army’s best shot: “They say he’s killed more of our men than any other 12 together, but I know now where he shoots from, so I hope we down him tomorrow.”
A councilor at the Staffordshire County Council Archives where the letter was uncovered, Ben Adams, said it was a very moving piece of history.
“This was in the middle of the most horrendous war imaginable, the most horrendous circumstances imaginable, so for those men to have an opportunity to almost live a normal life, chat and meet with other men in the way that they would hope to do outside of war, but knowing within 48 hours it’s back to the gruesome business of trying to win – it’s quite extraordinary,” Mr Adams said.
General Congreve did not take part in the truce because he was worried he might be too big a target for the Germans to resist.
Mr Adams said it was understandable given the general’s enormous responsibilities.
“At the time General Congreve was probably in charge of something like 35,000 to 40,000 men – he would have been a real target for the enemy,” he said.
“He actually is a very brave man, he was a holder of the Victoria Cross – he won the Victoria Cross in the Boer War.”
General Congreve survived the war and died in 1927.
His son Billy, also a Victoria Cross holder, was killed in action in 1916. […] E