Remembrance is for life, not just for Christmas…
FOOTBALL has done its bit to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War this year, not least with the “Football Remembers” campaign that centred upon the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914 and the football matches that took place on the Western Front between British and German troops.
It was a special day in the midst of that warfare when men from both sides – German and British only, there was no let up where French and Germans were in opposite trenches - put down their rifles, moved out into no man’s land and exchanged gifts of chocolate, cigarettes.
Memorably, that one moment of peace was encapsulated in the fact that football matches, rather than gunfire, broke out across the fields, reminding us that when we again embrace the innocence of childhood games, we can push the horror of war away, just for a few moments.
This was football, the beautiful game, at its most beguiling, the living embodiment of humanity played out across a killing field. Years later, George Orwell was to write disparagingly of sport as “war minus the shooting”. Don’t you think that’s better than the alternative? Should we not celebrate that, rather than being evil to one another?
Of course, amid this orgy of self-congratulation, football would do well to recall that it did not engineer the truce, but was merely the by-product. God did not come down from the skies and lob a ball onto the field, the soldiers were already playing with them behind their own lines. We should always remember that the truce of Christmas Day 1914 was not only remarkable, it was unique.
It existed because none could conceive of a war on this scale, of carnage such as this, enduring for four years. An end to it all was surely only just around the corner. After all, it was supposed to have been over by Christmas. Only it hadn’t been. And by Christmas 1915, such was the hatred both sides had for each other, that a truce was the last thing on their minds, much less playing football together.
Because sadly, that famous football match was not a fairy story, it did not end happily ever after. Those blokes who played football on Christmas Day didn’t all head off into the sunset. The next day, they would have heard the whistle blow and over the top they went, leaving trenches and running into a hail of bullets.
The odds are that most, if not all, of those footballers ended up blown to pieces, killed, maimed, if not that next day then on another or another over the next three years, ten months and 17 days of slaughter. If they survived it all, it would be almost certainly be with injuries, life changing disabilities and minds shredded by the most grotesque images that any man could have to endure, leaving empty shells, human bodies containing numbed minds.
Like so many such campaigns as “Football Remembers”, it’s all too easy to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and move on the day after it folds, forgetting what it was all about and going back to the day to day mundanities of life.
That isn’t the course we’re taking at the Albion, for we have chosen to memorialise World War One throughout this season, hoping to bring it closer to home, to understand its savagery and slaughter, to keep it uppermost in our minds, to contextualise it within local life and within the life of a football club, this football club.
You will have seen our Christmas video featuring players old and young from across the globe, talking about that truce. You might have read the regular feature “For Club & Country” in the Albion News matchday magazine that shows how football existed cheek by jowl with news from the Front throughout the 1914/15 season. Those of you on twitter can follow a day-by-day account of that season @WBAFC1415 featuring football news and war news as it happened 100 years ago.
Because the Great War is not something to be remembered on one day, it’s to be recalled, in still contemplation, day upon day. The words “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We shall remember them” from “Ode To Remembrance” is not a pat phrase, it’s telling us, beseeching us, not to forget so that God willing, it might never happen again.
The fact that the “war to end all wars” didn’t work – did anyone keep the receipt? – suggests that our acts of remembrance are all too shallow, for we have made the same mistakes again and again. As we embrace a new year, let us resolve to remember more vividly.
Every time you come to The Hawthorns, take a moment to visit the plaque in honour of the fallen HG Bache on our East Stand, in the shadow of Tony Brown’s statue, and have a quiet moment in thought.
Because if hate and war could solve anything, don’t you think they’d have solved it a long time ago?
Happy Christmas. War is over. If we all want it.
(Taken from our award winning match day magazine, Albion News)