A TOUR company from the Capital is preparing to re-enact the famous football match of the Christmas Day truce as part of the First World War centenary.
Des Brogan, director of Mercat International Tours, has organised a 2014 trip to Belgium, which will include a Christmas Day football match and carol singing on Boxing Day.
More than 200 people have signed up for the four-day festival – described as a “once-in-a-lifetime visit” – and numbers are rising.
Mr Brogan said: “I knew there was a demand for this. Most people if, or when, they think about Christmas 1914 at all, are aware of the famous truce which occurred along the Western Front and was characterised by the football match in no man’s land. I’ve been going to that area of Belgium since 1979, taking school groups, and I thought we really should be doing something to mark the centenary.
“From the early days of that great European tragedy, Ypres, Belgium, centred in the plans of the belligerent nations and it is only fitting that acknowledgement of this fact should be a key part in any centenary memorial ceremonies.
“At Christmas time, many people are fixed on their plans, but I knew there would be an interest in this.”
The Christmas truce was a spontaneous and unofficial laying down of arms along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In some areas, soldiers on both sides held a ceasefire.
Others ventured into no man’s land to exchange food and souvenirs and even played football.
The truce also saw soldiers reclaim their dead from no man’s land and bury them behind the lines.
As well as the opportunity to play football in the field where the original match was played in the early hours of Christmas Day, those visitors will also take part in an open air Christmas Carol concert in Main Square, Ypres, with British, Belgian and German participation.
Mr Brogan said: “It will be 100 years since both Britain and Germans soldiers were sitting in the trenches singing and we will be doing the exact same thing 100 years later – it’s an occasion that will never happen again.
“The trip has already had the support of the Belgian tourist authorities, the town councils of Messines and Ypres, PoppyScotland, the Royal British Legion and the Scottish and British governments.”
The UK Government has committed more than £50 million to the centenary commemorations. Plans include a £35m refurbishment of the First World War galleries at the Imperial War Museum.
A spokesman for Poppyscotland said: “Poppyscotland commends Des Brogan on his plans to re-enact the Christmas Day truce. The famous match represents a moment of humanity during the bloodshed, and we believe it is important to inform and educate people about its significance.”
SOLDIER’S LETTER RECOUNTS CEASEFIRE
AN account of the legendary football match of the Christmas Day truce was the subject of a letter discovered in December.
The letter was sent by Staff Sergeant Clement Barker four days after Christmas 1914, and unearthed by his nephew, Rodney Barker, 66.
He described how the truce began after a German messenger walked across no man’s land on Christmas Eve to broker the temporary ceasefire.
The letter read: “A German looked over the trench – no shots – our men did the same, and then a few of our men went out and brought the dead in (69) and buried them and the next thing happened a football kicked out of our trenches and Germans and English played football.
“Night came and still no shots. Boxing day the same, and has remained so up to now . . .”