Kilted soldiers show tackles in wartime

December 19, 2003

Historians have long dismissed the first world war football match that stopped fighting on the battlefield on Christmas day 1914 as folklore, but research suggests that festive games kicked off up and down the front line, sometimes played by "true Scotsmen" wearing kilts.

Iain Adams, lecturer in sport history at the University of Central Lancashire, is trawling soldiers' personal diaries and letters as well as regimental records to find out the truth about the Christmas day match between the football-loving nations of Britain and Germany.

Dr Adams said: "There was no authorised truce between the two armies of England and Germany, and there is a feeling that the whole subject is a notion dreamed up by soldiers who would have liked it to happen.

"But while some historians dispute the validity of the match, I believe that small games occurred on an ad hoc basis all the way down the frontline."

It is widely accepted that some soldiers from both sides stopped fighting on the first Christmas of the first world war, joining each other in no-man's land to share short church services, bury their dead, sing carols and exchange gifts and rations.

So far, Dr Adams has established that regiments taking part in the truce included the Welsh Fusiliers, the Seaforth Highlanders and, on the German side, the 133rd and 134th Saxons.

But he has evidence that football was played. A letter written by lieutenant Johannes Niemann of the 133rd Saxons describes the Scottish players as not wearing underpants beneath their kilts. The Germans won this match 3-2, according to the letter.

Dr Adams said: "Football was a large-scale working-man's sport at the time in both countries, so it is not all that surprising that wartime opponents, entrenched just 30 yards apart, began kicking a ball around at the end of the campaign season.

"In the midst of the horror of war it is heartwarming to think that sport helped people to get together in a friendly competitive spirit."

A month later the Germans made such friendly activities an offence of high treason and the British soon followed suit, making it a court martial offence.

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