The Thetford man who says the 1914 Christmas Day football match is much more than just a myth
PUBLISHED: 10:57 24 December 2014 | UPDATED: 10:57 24 December 2014
It is one of the most romanticised moments of the First World War.
But for decades, the precise truth of whether Germans and British soldiers came together to play a football match on Christmas Day 1914 has generated fierce controversy.
But for Mark Merrison, the notion is much more than a myth or subject for historical debate - it is a part of his family history.
His great uncle Albert Wyatt fought in Belgium and in a touching letter home to his parents, told them how on Christmas Day, he and the enemy sang hymns and kicked a ball.
Mr Merrison, a 51-year-old archaeological surveyor from Thetford, said: “The old anecdotal family tale of the events of Christmas 1914 was, and still is, simply considered a matter of fact by me, and by all my family.
Albert’s letter home
“I regard this as the most historic day ever spent on the battlefield. I arrived in the trenches 24th December and found everything quiet. There was no rifle firing, when we heard someone singing Christmas hymns. Then all at once there were shouts of, ‘Three cheers for the English’. To our surprise the voice came from the German trenches. Then both our men and the Germans started singing hymns together.
“On Christmas morning it was very thick and we could not see far in front of us until about mid-day. Then we heard the Germans shouting, “Come over here – we will not fire!” They got out of their trenches and started walking about on the top. Our chaps seeing them did the same. Then all at once came the surprise. The Germans started walking towards our trenches and two or three of our chaps went out to meet them. When they met, the Germans, speaking in English, wished them a ‘Merry Christmas.’
“Then came the fun. Everybody on each side walked out to the middle of the two firing lines, and shaking hands wished each other a “Merry Christmas.”
“To our surprise we found we were fighting men old enough to be our fathers and they told us they had had enough of the war, as they were nearly all married men.
We finished up in the same old way, kicking a football about between the two firing lines. So football in the firing lines between the British and Germans is the truth, as I was one who played.”
“None of us have ever doubted the truth of Albert’s account, nor in any way doubted his integrity.
“After all, why should we? He was a veteran, a seasoned soldier and a highly decorated war hero, too.”
Born in Kenninghall in 1887 as one of 12 siblings, Albert Wyatt had a tough upbringing as the son of a rural blacksmith.
Nine of the Wyatt brothers went on to fight on the Western Front, and Albert’s only sister served as a field-nurse in France.
As Lance corporal in A company with the 1st Norfolks, he went to France in 1914, was shot, came back to Britain and went back to France a second time.
By December 1914 he was in the trenches at Wulverghem in Belgium along with the 6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment.
He was moved to the forward firing line and on Christmas Eve, he was in the trenches.
Writing home to his parents, he said: “Football in the firing line between the British and Germans is the truth, as I was one that played.”
And for Mr Merrison, his word is good enough.
“I spent a lot of time with my grandfather growing up,” he said. “They were very close brothers and the ones I met were all hard men, rural blacksmiths who had all been in the trenches.
“For Albert to have written home to his mother saying there had been a kicking of a football, he would have meant it. I can’t believe he would have mentioned it if it wasn’t the truth.
“I remember sitting up with my grandfather and he told me a lot about the First World War and how Albert played football - I’ve no doubt.”