Christmas Truce 1914 Poems+Haikus

Another year of football poems ..some 7000 now.. whatever your views, faiths or followings at this time, hopefully at least we will all maybe reflect a little in the coming weeks.Perhaps on not just where our teams and lives are going… but on our planet in general and for those at war – somewhere.

One Christmas at war
what moved them – enemies all
only a football ?

Crispin Thomas

After trawling through the archives section of this siite we re-visit a poignant moment in the first Great War . Here then , some recent and not so recent poems , haikus and thoughts submitted on the Christmas Truce of 1914 (& 1915). Feel free to add any of your own on these themes.For all those who visit this site- have a peaceful New Year.Crispin

2.WHATEVER NEXT ? Stuart Butler 00
3.REMEMBRANCE DAY – Football In The Trenches- Stuart Butler 00
5 ENTRENCHED Peter Goulding Dec 05
6 YOUNG BERTIE HISLOP (No Mans Land Hero)-John J.O’Connor 02
7 THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 – Mark Thomas 01
9 EDITORIAL NOTES – Stuart Butler 2000


one Christmas in the trenches
they stood in mud and sand
their loved ones and their football
a distant far off land –
the snow lay thick as thick could be
a bitter chill did spread
behind the sand bags and the wire
they stood among the dead

their sweethearts faces locked inside
their tins and bits of things
along with resignation
of all that fighting brings –
on backs of woodbine packets
around some cold tinned stew
like texts and up-dates of their day
the scores would still get through

December Nineteen Fourteen
upon that Christmas morn
when to a man an act un-planned
and instant truce was born –
behind the barbed wire barricades
all scorched and bleak and bare
a distant sound grew all around
a song hung on the air

that Christmas in the trenches
a hope blew on the wind
a carol in another tongue
from far off did begin –
we’ll never know who made the call
to move in such a way
but something somehow lifted them
upon that Christmas Day

forbidden breach of orders
we call it what we will
but hearts were stirred and greetings heard
the air grew calm and still –
from burrows then on either side
they met in no-man’s land
as enemy met enemy
with gifts and outstrethed hands

a football thrown between the guns
from nowhere did appear
and in that silence voices rang
and echoed loud and clear –
we’ll never ever know the scores
or just how many games
when Tommy Atkins challenged Fritz
upon that Christmas Day –

how can we dare to comment
what use these simple lines
if none of us can dream or feel
the horror of those times
as for a moment time stood still
when arms were left aside
the bayonet the rifle
the cannon hate and pride –

but one result is certain
as game and friendship ceased
the sudden opportunity
for peace was never seized –
and still we wonder how a man
can laugh and play with men
to then return like sheep to fold
to kill and kill again

one Christmas in that first Great War
of stench and blood and grime
their football brought them closer
for one brief day in time
and though commanders drove them back
their orders to obey
between the lines a match was played
upon that Christmas Day

© Crispin Thomas Dec 1 2005

Men who a few short months before the slaughter
Had voted Socialist,
And who had voted internationalist,
Who had struck for higher wages,
Against their respective employers and Capital,
Were now once more united
In common purpose and on common land –
Fritz and Tommy met in No Man’s Land,
And briefly shared a deepened understanding
Of how nationhood had hoodwinked them,
And destroyed lives and mutual empathy;
Not for them the knowledge
That British shells paid royalties to enemy patents,
As Capital respected Capital,
Christmas trees and fags and beer,
And frost-breath football,
Silhouetted against a setting blood-red sun –
And who cares about the score?
Who cares if Germany won 3 – 2?
The deeper question is
“What if they had played again the next day?”
And the day after that?
And what if they had played mixed sides,
And dispensed with birthplace
As the sole criterion for selection?
Whatever next?
© Stuart Butler – 2000


When War broke out, the British public cried
“We’ll be in Berlin by Christmas”. But
By Christmas hundreds of thousands had died,
As Mons, The Marne, Ypres and Messine cut
Down the youth of Europe, while Flanders’ flood
Drowned dying, dead and alive. Summer’s dream
Was swamped by winter’s mud, rats, death and blood
In No Man’s Land; a hell hole night mare scene
Of jagged wire, flares, shells, screams and shrapnel,
(A choreographed commonality
That saw each side’s men attack, flail and fall
In ceaseless dance of death’s banality)
Until, at Christmas, nineteen fourteen, when
Hamburg, Berlin, London and Manchester
Said “No!” to the killing fields’ mad mayhem
Ordered by Kaiser, Flag, Map and Officer,
And met instead in friendship, walking tall
And slow, comrades in war’s adversities,
They embraced in No Man’s Land and Football
Harmonised nations’ animosities;
And what if the playing of the Peoples’ Game
Had continued beyond that Christmas time?
What on earth would have happened next?
Well, I suggest to you that none of the following
Would have occurred –
The Battle of the Somme; Verdun; The Bolshevik Revolution;
The Russian Civil War; Stalin; Hitler; Fascism; World War Two;
Nuclear weapons; the Cold War; Remembrance Day;
Think about it.
And play the Peoples’ Game.

© Stuart Butler – 2000

It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
When angels bent down to the earth,
And changed machine guns into harps,
And turned leaden bullets into golden carols
That drifted across no man’s land,
And choirs of soldiers joined the angels
In a cease-fire of exultation,
While all the bloodied uniformed citizens
Of heaven above watched as silent knights,
As helmets and caps and whisky and schnapps
Were passed from frozen side to frightened side,
When a Tommy kicked a football up into the air,
And there it stayed, suspended high up in the sky,
Shining for ever in a continent’s memory;
A star of peace in a bleak midwinter’s century.

© Stuart Butler DEC 2005

It’s an image that should be inspiring,
Restoring our faith in humanity,
When the cannon and guns ceased their firing
And goodwill overpowered the insanity.

When the mud-spattered fodder came crawling
O’er trenches so cold and decaying,
Sweet respite from murderous brawling,
Repose from the maiming and slaying.

When the Christmas Day truce stopped the slaughter
With its thoughts of a faraway manger,
And wine was dispensed as if water,
And no-one considered a stranger.

When a football was kicked about freely
Where the blood of lost comrades lay frozen,
Concentration so earnest and steely
On the brows of the players thus chosen.

And the smiles brought some warmth and some colour
To the endless expanse, brown and dreary,
And the flush, sweating faces seemed fuller,
Though the eyes remained ghostly and weary.

It’s an image that should be inspiring,
Restoring our faith in humanity,
But the next day the guns started firing
And the world sank once more to insanity.

© Peter Goulding 29th December 2005

6. YOUNG BERTIE HISLOP (No Mans Land Hero)

HE was born in 1899,
Bert Hislop was his name,
and from the time he kicked a ball,
he was a natural for the game.

From a tiny Yorkshire village,
where the men worked down the pit,
his father told him, you won’t breath coal,
you’ll wear a football kit.

Even at his young age,
scouts were on the prowl,
will he play for Sheff United
or become an Owl.

Would he join Preston North End,
across the old Pennines,
only thing they knew was,
he’d never work inside the mines.

Then came 1914,
and the war to end all wars,
and a generation of young men,
arrived on Gallic shores.

One day recruiters came to town,
to sign up volunteers,
and Bertie Hislop to his age
added several years.

Lord Kitchener, told the volunteers,
the war would all be fun.
Over by Christmas time,
but he didn’t say which one.

Despite pleas from his family,
and local football side,
Bertie headed off to France,
upon a Dover tide.

His home became a muddy trench,
all waterlogged and cold,
and his only simple pleasure was,
the cigarettes he rolled.

As he stared into the mud,
he saw his local pitch at home,
where he left defenders in his wake,
as down the wing he’d roam.

They said he’d play for England,
before he’s twenty-one,
but Bertie gave it all up
to go and fight the Hun.

While artillery fire and charges,
played havoc with the nerves,
Bertie dreamt of beating men
with his body swerves.

He dreamt of Yorkshire pudding,
and his mothers mushy peas,
and how he wished he’d stayed at home,
and listened to her pleas.

Bertie wrote a letter home
on a freezing Christmas Eve
telling them he’d soon be home,
on a two week leave.

He said he’d miss the Christmas cake,
the presents and the trifles,
but he had to stay and fight the Huns
with his fellow Yorkshire Rifles.

Then dot on midnight came a sound,
from a German trench nearby,
as ‘Silent Night’ in German
filled the Belgium sky.

“All of us are Saxons,
we only hate the French,”
was shouted at the English lines
from the German trench.

“Happy Christmas Fritz.”
came a voice from the English line,
and “Happy Christmas Tommy,”
replied the men from across the Rhine.

On a frosty Christmas morning,
beneath a clear blue Flemish sky,
Bertie and his colleagues
weren’t prepared to die.

They dipped into their rations,
and soon began to sing,
first some Christmas carols
then ‘God Save the King.’

As the German trench responded,
with the carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’
a Boche strolled into No Mans Land,
totally defenseless.

He was joined by a couple more,
the schnapps had made them brave,
and towards the English trenches
they gave a friendly wave.

So the men of the Yorkshire Rifles,
all put down their guns,
and climbed over the parapet
to greet the friendly Huns.

Hands were shaken, photos swapped,
ciggs given out like candy,
and German schnapps was guzzled
along with English brandy.

A couple of Highlanders with a ball,
came to join the banter,
and soon two goal posts were put down,
each a tam o shanter.

With their comical pork pie hats,
the Germans did the same,
and before you could say Franz Beckenbauer
you had an international game.

Lots were drawn by soldiers,
to see who’d make the side,
and Bertie got the right wing spot
which filled him up with pride.

He terrorized the Germans,
almost from the start,
but not with a machine gun
but with his skill— and heart.

The game was never dirty,
they’d both seen too much blood,
but not an inch was given
on the frozen Ypres mud.

The Germans took an early lead
in the morning cold,
and Bert removed his trench coat,
and up his sleeves he rolled.

The English ventured forward,
with non stop goal attacks,
but they couldn’t rattle Germany
and their stoic backs.

Then young Bertie,
beat two Huns with a swivel of his hips,
and he beat the German keeper
with the most delicate of chips.

They swapped ends at half time,
with the score one —-one
and straight after the break
Bert went on a run.

With a drop of his young shoulders,
and his famous body swerve,
he left defenders in his wake
as in the ball he curved.

The Tommys on the side
jumped when he scored,
and even the German players,
stood back to applaud.

But the Germans were resilient
and refused to fall,
and a blonde aryan head
soon made the score two all.

“Feed the ball to Hislop”,
came the side line shouts,
as the Tommys soaked up pressure
from the skilful Krauts.

Then Bertie started off,
on one of his mazy runs,
leaving in his wake
a bewildered bunch of Huns.

He dribbled round the goalie,
and popped it in to score,
and everyone on No Mans Land
forgot about the war.

The Germans then pressed forward,
to try and score their third,
but the game was abruptly ended
when a single shot was heard.

Captain Wainwright removed his pistol,
and fired it in the air
and ordered all the Tommys back
into their lair.

Bert returned to the trench
carried shoulder high,
a hero in a brilliant match
that history would deny.

The history books will tell you,
of hat tricks by Geoff Hurst,
but they won’t acknowledge Bert Hislop,
who buried his one first.

They’ll mention one man shows,
Malcolm McDonalds’ five v Cyprus
but they won’t tell of Bertie Hislop
in no mans land in Ypres.

Captain Wainwright told the troops,
he sincerely apologized
“I had to stop the game
before they equalized.”

“One thing you’ll someday learn chaps,
when you get as old as me,
is you never let the Germans
take you to penal–ties.

You’ll beat them at warfare,
at rugger and at cards,
but you’ll never beat the b*****ds
at scoring from twelve yards.”

The night before his leave,
Bert took sentry duty
dreaming of his second goal
which everyone called a beauty.

He heard a sound in No Mans Land,
and foolishly raised his head,
and a seasoned German sniper
shot Bert Hislop dead.

In a desolate mining village,
which Maggie helped destroy,
there lies a grave upon the hill
of a heroic Yorkshire boy.

The stone says BERTRUM HISLOP
15 years 200 days,
killed in action YPRES
and in this ground he lays.

So when you list your English heros
and put Beckham at the top,
spare a thought for NO MANS LAND,
and a bloke called BERT HIS-LOP.

© John J O’Connor originally written in 2002

Broken bodies lie all around
The stench of death in the air
Comrades huddle to think of home
Quiet on the Western Front, so rare

Cigars and whiskey, carols sung
For a time, atrocious acts cease
Tentative handshakes by the foes
As war breaks into peace

Fritz and Tommy in No Man’s Land
Only a language barrier in between
With dignity their fallen lain to rest
The Christmas Truce of 1914

A football appears and two teams form
The beautiful game incongruously played
For many, their last taste of fun
In the morning, the goodwill fades

© Mark Thomas

“I issued immediate orders to prevent any recurrence of such conduct”.Sir John French, British Commander-in-Chief.


Many of you will know what a haiku is, but for those who don’t, it has just 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.In 2000 Stuart Butler encouraged both visitors to this site and pupils at Brockworth School, near Gloucester to write and submit haikus related to the theme of the Christmas truce and football in the trenches. Here’s a selection of what we received.

One Christmas at war
what moved them – enemies all
only a football ?

Crispin Thomas
HQ finds guilt by
Association, football
says peace is the goal.

Stuart Butler
Glorious football,
organised battlefields but
without the damage.

Peter Tickner
No bullets today,
no raking machine gunfire,
goal mouth shots instead.

Tommy Atkins

( The following pieces were written by 7SB tutor group at Brockworth School, Gloucester in 2000)

Bombs, bangs are distant,
the sound of war has stopped as
the football has won.

Jonathon Eaton


In 1914,
they stopped the war to celebrate
played football, not war.

Chanel Waugh

The War was bitter,
But on Christmas Day, it changed,
With a football match.

Ryan Pearce.

We came out to fight,
But we played football instead,
The Peoples’ best Game.

Marcus Hughes

No Mans’ Land, the pitch,
Barbed wire’s blood marks the touch lines,
Flares act as floodlights.


9. EDITORIAL NOTES – Stuart Butler.

What do we feel about the ambiguous evidence and the truces’ prevalence? Our view remains the same – poetic licence reveals a deeper truth, a truth far beyond the confines of shallow empiricism.
War between England and Germany has become such a tired tabloid metaphor for England – Germany football games, that it is easy to forget that football can be seen as a metaphor for peace. We refer, of course, to the Christmas 1914 and 1915 truces and football matches A whole historiographical industry has built up around these incidents – an industry made easy by the paucity of surviving first hand testimonies from both British and German, and from both willing participants and horrified officers. Broadly speaking, there are 2 schools of historical interpretation about the truces. First, those historians who see sufficient evidence of fraternisation to justify going beyond the surviving written evidence, and who, in consequence, emphasise the role of threats of courts martial. Secondly, there are those historians who affirm the marginality of these incidents and who affirm the enmity rather than amity of those involved in the Christmas truces. We present a selection of first hand accounts and websites for those who wish to research further.


Leutnant Johannes Niemann, 133rd. Saxon Regiment:
“The mist was slow to clear and suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternising…exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate…Later a Scottish soldier appeared with a football which seemed to come from nowhere and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. The Scots marked their goalmouth with their strange caps and we did the same. It was far from easy to play on the frozen ground, but we continued, keeping rigorously to the rules, despite the fact that it only lasted an hour and that we had no referee…Us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore nothing under their kilts… The game finished with a score of 3 goals to 2 in favour of Fritz against Tommy.”

Kurt Zehmisch’s diary tells of British and German cooperation over burying the dead in No Man’s Land, near Ypres at Christmas and how “soon a couple of Englishmen brought a football from their trenches and a lively game ensued.” (Lost 3 –2 again.)

The Times on New Year’s Day, 1915, carried a report of a 3 – 2 defeat while the Lancashire Fusiliers recorded a 3 – 2 victory. A Fusilier eye witness account records, however, that the Fusiliers played amongst themselves while the Germans “enjoyed themselves sliding on a little pond”, which is probably why we won.

Source: http://footballpoets.org/news/2005/12/11/christmas-truce-1914-poemshaikus/