German, British soldiers commemorate WWI Christmas Truce on Kabul soccer field
December 25, 2016
KABUL, Afghanistan — In the chilly morning air at NATO headquarters in Kabul on Sunday, a group of British soldiers pulled off their uniform tops and slid on red T-shirts. On the other side of a set of bleachers looming over the base’s large helicopter landing zone, a group of German soldiers did the same, only their T-shirts were white.
Both tops bore the same message: “1914-2016, Great Britain vs. Germany Christmas Football.”
The international coalition’s chief of staff is German Lt. Gen. Jurgen Weigt. His deputy is British Lt. Gen. Sandy Storrie. Together, they decided to host a soccer game this year to commemorate the 1914 Christmas Truce.
On that first Christmas of World War I, German and British soldiers laid down their weapons, climbed out of their trenches, and celebrated the holiday together in the no-man’s land that lay between them. According to some accounts, impromptu games of soccer broke out.
In Sunday’s match, soldiers took to the pitch — a soccer field long ago transformed into a helicopter landing zone — for two 20-minute halves. The sidelines were a confetti of uniforms as soldiers from NATO partner countries, including Australia, Italy, Romania, Belgium, and Czech Republic, together with officers from the Afghan army. A handful of Afghans from a school next door spilled through a gate and watched from the far side of the field.
“It’s a day of remembrance for the dead from (World War I),” said, British Capt. Richard Makepeace.
Periodically, a fog horn would sound, signaling incoming helicopters. The players trotted to the sidelines as the choppers landed, disgorging passengers or taking on cargo. After they returned to the skies, the game resumed.
“I grew up reading about the Christmas Truce,” said U.S. Capt. John Anderson, 26, of Muscatine, Iowa, who served as one of the referees. “It showed that even at the height of war there’s some humanity.”
The game remained scoreless until late in the second half when the British managed to score. With only minutes left on the clock, the Germans failed to equalize.
The game over, and the commemoration done, soldiers patted each other on the back and then wandered out of the landing zone. As for their plans for the rest of the holiday?
“Drinking coke and wondering what people back home are up to,” Makepeace said.