Prowse Point cemetery near Ploegsteert, showing UEFA memorial site and reconstructed trenches (Courtesy of Paul Reed, from a video on his website WW1 Revisited, 'Above the Battlefield')

Christmas truce: European football announces Centenary tribute in Belgium

Posted on centenarynews.com on 20 November 2014
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European football is to commemorate the centenary of the Christmas truce with the unveiling of a new memorial near Ploegsteert in Belgium on December 11th 2014.

It will be inaugurated by Michel Platini, President of European football's governing body, UEFA, close to the field where British and German troops emerged from their trenches to exchange Christmas greetings in 1914 and play an impromptu football game.

The Saint Yves site is one of a number along the Western Front where, almost five months after the outbreak of the First World War, unofficial ceasefires were reported by soldiers on both sides, 

European football's tribute heralds a series of public events in the Ploegsteert area from December 19th-21st.

Homage

For Michel Platini, a former French international, it's a homage to an expression of humanity which still inspires today.

His special adviser, William Gaillard, told a press conference in London on November 12th: "We felt that if there was a way to commemorate this moment, of the little peace in the Great War, it was definitely to do it on the spot where one of the documented truces took place, where we know that they kicked a ball.

"This was the common language that they had. Kicking a ball was something that everyone could understand as a moment of friendship, and a moment of joy."

The design for the new memorial remains under wraps, but it will be sited next to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Prowse Point cemetery.

(Photo: Centenary News)

UEFA's commemorations were announced at Chelsea Football Club's Stamford Bridge ground, during a press conference involving Mr Gaillard, the Football Association, the Belgian Tourist Office, Shorncliffe Trust and a delegation from Comines-Warneton, the Belgian municipality which includes St Yves and Ploegsteert.

The December 11th ceremony will be followed by three days of events, including re-enactments, over the last weekend before Christmas. Visitors are promised 'immersion in the context of the 1914 Christmas truce,' with reconstructed trenches and a nursing post giving a flavour of battlefield conditions 100 years ago. 

The weekend opens with a torchlight march from the "Ploegsteert 14-18 Experience" Interpretation Centre, culminating in a Last Post ceremony at the Commonwealth cemetery in the heart of Ploegsteert Wood.

For Comines-Warneton, the commemorations mark the launch of a programme aimed at keeping the memory of the truce alive beyond the Centenary.

Olympic backing

A Heritage Committee has been formed, backed by organisations including the International Olympic Committee. Historical research into the Christmas truce is due to be published in 2015, and there are also plans for annual symposiums, starting in December 2015.

Gilbert Deleu, Mayor of Comines-Warneton, commented: "By putting the seal of UEFA, and of this popular sport that is football, on these commemorations, Michel Platini has in one stroke called up all those who love the 'round ball' to take possession of this truce and propagate its spirit and the hope that it has provoked."

One hundred years on, the Christmas truce still captures public imagination as an extraordinary moment of wartime fraternisation. Its use as the theme for a British supermarket's seasonal advertising campaign started a vigorous debate in the UK.

Lieutenant Bruce Bairnsfather, the First World War soldier who captured the wry humour of the archetypal 'Tommy' with his 'Old Bill' cartoons, was among those who witnessed the moment. He wrote: "Around noon, a football match was suggested. Someone had evidently received a deflated football as a Christmas present. Despite the frozen surface and surviving turnips, a football was kicked about."

According to Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch, two English soldiers brought a football to the German trenches. As he put it: "This was all so wonderful and strange."

For more information about the Christmas truce Centenary commemorations in Comines-Warneton, click here. To obtain tickets, contact info@rememberplugstreet.com

Ceremonies are also taking place in Messines, with the opening of a memorial designed by British and German school pupils at the Peace Village on December 6th 2014.

A video, featuring aerial views of the Christmas truce memorial site and Prowse Point cemetery, can be found by clicking here. 'Above The Battlefield' is a new project from military historian Paul Reed via his website WW1 Revisited

Source: Belgian Tourist Office - Brussels & Wallonia

Images courtesy of Paul Reed/WW1 Revisited; Centenary News

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News