The famous First World War football match of the Christmas Day truce started after a ball was kicked from the British lines into No Man's Land.
The disclosure emerged in a previously-unseen letter describing the famous match.
Staff sergeant Clement Barker 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 come over from the German lines and said that if we did not fire Xmas day, they (the Germans) wouldn't do 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 10 million lives.
The unofficial truce took place on December 24, 1914, in the trenches around Ypres.
It started with German soldiers putting decorations up around their trenches and singing Christmas carols, including Stille Nacht - Silent Night.
The British soldiers responded by singing O Come all ye Faithful.
Soldiers on both sides then shouted Christmas greetings to each other and suggested meeting in No Man's Land when they shook hands and exchanged cigarettes.
Sgt Barker, from Ipswich, Suffolk, 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, Hants, said: "I never met my uncle and found these letter amongst some of my dad's things after my mother passes 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.
"After 1914 there was gas and aerial bombardments and it got pretty nasty.
"It's a famous event so it was a surprise to find out somebody from my family had such a close connection to it.
"At the time it was all hushed up because our troops weren't supposed to fraternize with the enemy.
"It's an interesting insight and shows that the German troops in particular were pretty fed up even though the war was only three months old at this stage."
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 been seen for almost a century is quite remarkable.
"This letter is of great historical value and the truce was the last bit of chivalry of the First World War.
"The war had already been costly but it was about to get far worse.
"One of the reasons they were playing football was because they weren't able to communicate very well due to the language barrier.
"This was a way for them to share something. It wouldn't have been an organised match or anything, more of a free-for-all kick around.
"There is something appealing about the idea that nations could settle their differences in sport rather than war."
In: Other News, History
Tags: WW1, Christmas, football, match, detailed, letter
Location: Ieper, Vlaams Gewest, Belgium (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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