The Day the Fighting Stopped

Soccer in No Man's Land, Christmas, 1914


| December 2003


A new book, The Small Peace in the Big War, by German author Michael Jurgs is the first to be written from the German perspective about the one-day truce that unofficially broke out along the front line in the first world war. Luke Harding, reviewing the book for The Guardian, writes that soccer games were played all along the front between sleep deprived soldiers to the horror of German and British high commands. The players most often did not have soccer balls -- they played with lumps of straw and empty jam boxes in games that lasted about an hour.

One account of the cease-fire starts on Christmas Eve, when the shooting suddenly stopped. The Germans whistled between their fingers and the British answered back. Kurt Zehmisch, a German Lieutenant, wrote about that Christmas in his diary: 'Soldier M?ckel from my company, who had lived in England for many years, called to the British in English, and soon a lively conversation developed between us.' Soldiers from each side walked into no man's land, shook hands, wished each other a merry Christmas, and agreed not to fight the next day. 'Afterwards, we placed even more candles than before on our kilometre-long trench, as well as Christmas trees,' Zehmisch wrote. 'It was the purest illumination -- the British expressed their joy through whistles and clapping. Like most people, I spent the whole night awake. It was a wonderful, if somewhat cold, night.'
-- Joel Stonington

Go there>> A Cry of: Waiter! And the Fighting Stopped