"The Germans started shouting to us 'come out'": Diary details World War I Christmas truce

By Ben Miller | 12 December 2014

Read a First World War soldier's handwritten account of the Christmas Day truce when a "huge crowd" gathered between the trenches

A photo of a diary with handwritten black ink on faded yellow paper
Lieutenant Charles Bertram Brockbank's diary is about to be part of the new Greater Game exhibition© National Football Museum
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1 1916, Captain WP Nevill kicked a football “over the top”.

Still in impressive shape, the ball itself is only one of the amazing objects going on show at the National Football Museum next week: Wilfred Bartrop, who was part of the ‘Battling Barnsley’ side which reached the FA Cup Final in 1910 and 1912, has the winner’s medal he was awarded on display – a memento of a man who lost his life just four days before the end of the war.

A photo of an old brown leather football
© National Football Museum
Mfanwy Trippier, a member of the Women’s Land Army who played for Bolton and Manchester Ladies post-war, left artefacts and photographs demonstrating the popularity of female football and the part women played in the war effort. But perhaps the most remarkable item is a handwritten account in a diary kept by Lieutenant CB Brockbank, of the 6th Bn Cheshire Regiment, reporting on the famous Christmas Day football game of 1914.

Dec 25th
XMAS-DAY. "I spent the most agonising night, I ever remember, owing to the cold.

It was freezing terribly hard and as we were in support trenches were not allowed fires.

I was so cold and my feet so painful that I got out of the dugout and walked about, there was not much danger, stamping my feet till 4.30am, then was so fagged out I fell asleep but kept on waking owing to the pain of my feet, I quite thought I was frost-bitten.

7am. It was beginning to grow light but as there was a lot of mist I told the men they could light fires.

They did not need telling twice. There is a farmhouse to the rear of the trenches where hens abound, also dead pigs, so taking two men with me we went on a henhunt.

They fly like pheasants so took some catching and in about ten minutes there were about 60 men in the hunt.

The fog lasted till about mid-day so we had good fun, getting in all eleven hens, one of which I brought back for tomorrow’s dinner.

Now for the extraordinary incident. At about 2.30 all firing ceased and the Germans started shouting to us “Come out”, “Have a drink”, and then one of them climbed out of the trench without his equipment on so one of ours did the same.

It ended in a 'Mother’s Meeting', nearly every man of our trench, except machine gunners, was out and a huge crowd was between the trenches.

Someone produced a little rubber ball so of course a football match started.

We exchanged various things and I got a cap-badge, belt buckle, whistle, rifle cartridge, purse and tea tablets, not to mention getting about four Germans’ names and address in their own handwriting on field service postcards, as a positive proof that it all really did happen, because it will naturally sound a very tall story when it gets told in the billets.”

  • The Greater Game: Football and the First World War is at the National Football Museum, Manchester from December 19 2014 – September 6 2015. Visit footballandthefirstworldwar.org for more.

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More from Culture24's First World War section:

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Hello, I am a Yr9 student in the middle of my 2nd history assessment project on WW1 and would like to put together a series of diary entries as a soldier would have experienced in the trenches.
If anyone has any personal accounts from family relatives they would be willing to share with me - I would be really appreciative. I want to do my best to write in a way that shows how a young man would have actually felt in winter. Thanks Ethan aged 13
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