Friday 14thDecember 2018. My last day of work for the year before a much needed break, and l for one was looking forward to it. Late that afternoon I was ‘feeding’ the brandy soaked Christmas cake but admittedly the bottle was a little too tempting so both the cake and I got a bit of a soaking.
Later in the evening after a few festive drinks, I turned to thinking about my journey next week back to the Ypres Salient; and having also wrapped some Christmas presents my mind meandered to the Christmas Truce of 1914. Legend has it that on Christmas day 1914 across the freezing trenches that both sides downed tools for the day for a bit of a knees-up in no man’s land, including an impromptu kick about game of football.
You could argue it was the booze talking, but at that moment I thought it would be a bit of a laugh would it not to hoof a football across No man’s Land whilst I am in Belgium?
So, I put the idea out on to Twitter; seemingly the modern-day voice of reason…!?
The next morning, I wearily logged back in to Twitter and I was surprised at the amount of messages to say that it was a great idea… and now Twitter expects. Oh no. My tipsy bluff was called. I don’t even own a football these days!
“Well,” I thought. “If Twitter expects; I shall deliver” Saturday evening, I was back logged in and proclaimed that the mission had been accepted and I will kick off another game in no man’s land some 104 years after the original – and used the hashtag #ChristmasTruce
Well, the hashtag fired a response from a nice chap called Steve Smith, a World War One historian and tour guide.
Steve: Where exactly around Ypres will you kick the football?
Campo: That bit I have yet to work out
Steve then went on to explain that there are only two confirmed sites along the whole of the Western Front where a ‘kick-about’ happened during the 1914 truce.
I checked out Steve’s blog to find that one of the genuine sites was a fifteen minute drive south of Ypres.
I returned to Twitter and announced that I was to purchase a football and if there were any messages that people wanted written on the ball that they were to let me know.
I received messages from #BTFC’s Matty Warmington and Kev Miller, and on behalf of the club I also, I also wrote the name of our own Capt John Duke MC. Others were from West Ham Utd and Millwall FC fans.
Tuesday 18thDecember 2018
Mrs Campo and I now had to find our way to Steve’s plotted location of the Christmas Truce. With a quick look on google maps it appeared we were heading out into the farmlands of Flanders.
So we set off to find our location between Mesen and Wulvergem, the precise location if anyone is interested is Kortestraat off the N314.On a pretty windy day, we arrived at our location. I was pleased to find two markers along the road, each for the two lines of the trenches.To the south near the N314 and going west was the British front line and to the North of Kortestraat and going east were the German lines.
Perfect. I now had a 400 meter gap between the two, I had arrived at no man’s land of Christmas 1914.
I retrieved the scribed ball from the boot of our car and placed it in some rather gloopy mud and grass to stop it taking off with the wind and making its own journey across Flanders.
Whilst I’d love to claim a David Beckham styled approach to the launch of this football, sadly there is video evidence that will testify otherwise. I took two large paces back and with a swift hoof, off went the ball (and a rather large chunk of some farmers field) into no man’s land of 1914.
Whilst it was a fun mini adventure and was pleased to have completed the Twitter mission, I stood for a moment reflecting on what I had just done. Just a week short of 104 years to the day, I was standing in a place where a unforgettable moment in history took place. I delivered a football to no man’s land on the Western Front, maybe the brandy fueled idea on that Friday evening was not such a bad one after all. I felt a real sense of pride.
We then decided to make a quick exit and have it away on our toes before the owner of the carrot field investigated my littering of his manor.
Mission completed Sir, Mission successful.