On November 11 of this year – the 80th anniversary of that 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when World War I ended – there was dedicated in Frélinghien, France, a memorial to the most remarkable event not merely of that particular conflict but perhaps of all conflicts.
The memorial recalls a soccer game played on Christmas Day, 1914, between men from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the 134th Saxon Infantry Regiment.
The Saxons regiment won the game 2-1.
Then, the two teams partook of plum pudding proffered by the Welshmen and a barrel of beer rolled onto the field by the Saxons. They sang a few carols and hung candles from a bush in the rough fashion of a Christmas tree.
It was “a quite social party,” one soldier wrote home to his family.
This was no ordinary holiday party, however.
It was, the soldier suggested, “the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent.”
Those who know their military history will recognize that what was remarkable about the game was that it involved soldiers in the service of the British king and German kaiser who, only hours before, had been battling one another – and who, in short order, would be battling once again.
They were participants in an event that was almost lost to history – the Christmas Truce of 1914.
The British and German governments denied that the truce even took place.
War historians neglected this chapter in the story of “the war to end all wars.”
But those who participated in the truce remembered it.
Men like Alfred Anderson, who died in 2005 at the very ripe old age of 109.
In his last years, as rumors of the truce attracted the attention of new generations of historians and journalists, Anderson found finally that his recollection of that Christmas Truce of 1914 – a brief respite from the carnage of World War I that saw soldiers of both sides in the conflict lay down their arms, climb out of their trenches and celebrate together along the 500-mile Western Front.
Anderson was the last surviving old soldier known to have participated in what he would refer to in his later years as “a short peace in a terrible war.”
That peace, which was initiated not by presidents or prime ministers, but by the soldiers themselves, serves to this day as a reminder that war is seldom so necessary — nor so unstoppable — as politicians would have us believe.
So it comes as no surprise that the Christmas Truce of 1914 is a bit of history that many in power have neglected over the past 90 years.