Did 'old Bill' watch football? Bruce Bairnsfather and the Christmas Truce

Adams, IC (2016) Did 'old Bill' watch football? Bruce Bairnsfather and the Christmas Truce. In: Sport and Leisure on the Eve of the First World War. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), Crewe, pp. 22-46. ISBN 9781910029152

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One of the micro-level ‘myths’ of Britain’s collective memory of the First World War is of the football match of Christmas Day 1914 between British and German troops. However research has shown that it is improbable that a ‘proper’ match occurred but it is highly likely that there were numerous incidents of soldiers playing football. This article examines the evidence of football being played by the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and their opponents at Christmas 1914 and the possible involvement of the cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather. His description of the truce led to the ‘Khaki Chums’, a group dedicated to understanding the life of the British soldier, commemorating the truce by spending four days in 1999 in trenches as close to Bairnsfather’s experience as possible. When they left a large wooden cross was set up as a mark of respect for those who fought and died in the area. The local people have adopted the cross and it is regularly treated with preservative and has been set in a concrete base. Today this cross is nearly always surrounded by footballs apart from around Remembrance Day when they are carefully cleared away to be replaced with wreaths and small wooden Royal British Legion crosses.

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