'A football was kicked out of our trenches and we played the Germans': Poignant letter recounting famous 1914 Christmas Day truce rediscovered nearly 100 years on A letter from Staff Sergeant Clement Baker describes the famous truceSgt Clement Barker sent the letter four days after Christmas 1914Letter details how German messenger brokered truce on Christmas Eve
13:43 GMT, 23 December 2012
A previously-unseen letter which describes the legendary football match of the Christmas Day truce during the First World War has been discovered.
The letter was sent by staff sergeant Clement Barker four days after Christmas 1914, when the British and German troops famously emerged from their trenches in peace.
Sgt Barker, from Ipswich, Suffolk, describes how the truce began after a German messenger walked across no man's land on Christmas Eve to broker the temporary ceasefire.
Recount: The previously-unseen letter sent by Sgt Barker which describes the famous football game of the Christmas Day truce
Game: The letter, left, sent by Sgt Barker, right, recounts how the match began when a ball was kicked out from the British lines
British soldiers then went out and recovered 69 dead comrades and buried them.
Sgt Barker said the impromptu football match soon broke out between the two sides when a ball was kicked out from the British lines into no man's land.
His nephew Rodney Barker, 66, found the letter 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 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…
Optimistic: Sgt Barker details how things were 'looking rosy' after some of the Germans had given themselves up as prisoners
Family: Rodney Barker, left, found the poignant letter, which describes the truce in detail, from his uncle while going through documents following the death of his mother
Date: Sgt Barker wrote the letter on December 29, 1914, after the British and German troops had conversed during the truce
'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.
Passed: Sgt Barker's letter had to pass through the censors before it made its way to his brother Montague
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 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.'
Cease-fire: German and British troops meet in no man's land during the Christmas Truce of 1914
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.
Survivors: Rodney Barker, left, with a photograph of his father and uncles, who all remarkably survived the conflict and the letter, right, which details the legendary moment
Brothers: A wartime photograph of Sgt Barker, left, and his brothers including Rodney Barker's father
'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.'
'Significant': The letters, which have appeared on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, have been described as 'remarkable' by the Imperial War Museum