by Matt Stott
Friday, December 28, 2012
IT was the day the guns fell silent.
And now, a previously-unseen letter from an Ipswich soldier describing the famous football match of the Christmas Day truce in the First World War has been discovered.
Staff sergeant Clement Barker, from Ipswich, sent the letter home four days after Christmas 1914 when the British and German troops emerged from their trenches in peace.
He described how the truce began after a German messenger walked across No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve to broker the temporary cease-fire agreement.
British soldiers went out and recovered 69 dead comrades and buried them.
Sgt Barker said the impromptu football match then broke out between the two sides when a ball was kicked out from the British lines into No Man’s Land. Rodney Barker, 66, found the letter from his uncle when he was going through some old documents following his mother’s death.
Sgt Barker wrote to his brother Montague: “...a messenger came over from the German lines and said that if they did not fire Xmas day, they (the Germans) wouldn’t so in the morning (Xmas day).
“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...
“We have conversed with the Germans and they all seem to be very much fed up and heaps of them are deserting.
“Some have given themselves up as prisoners, so things are looking quite rosy.”
His optimistic outlook proved quite wrong, as the truce was the last act of chivalry between the two sides and the war went on for four more years, with the loss of ten million lives.
Sgt Barker joined the army in 1902 at the age of 18. He served with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and survived the Great War.
In 1920 he left the army and worked for the Ministry of Defence. He died in 1945 aged 61.
Mr Barker, a retired chartered surveyor from Fleet, Hampshire, said: “I never met my uncle and found these letter amongst some of my dad’s things after my mother passed away.
“It’s amazing that it is so matter of fact.
“He is talking about clearing away bodies one moment and then a game of football the next.”
The letter was featured on a recent episode of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.
James Taylor, a historian at the Imperial War Museum, said: “It is 98 years since the event so this letter is very significant.
“Various accounts of the truce exist so to have one surface after not being seen for almost a century is quite remarkable.”