The small village of Frelinghien is situated on the Franco-Belgian frontier just to the north east of Armentières.
It can be reached from Armentières by taking the D 945 towards Houplines and then Frelinghien. Alternatively if coming from Ieper take the N 336 towards Waasten (Warneton) and cross the frontier into Deûlémont, turning right along the D 945.
If you have been visiting the area around Ploegsteert then take the N 365 towards Armentières and at Le Bizet (A typical Belgian border town — cheap cigarettes for the French) turn left towards Le Touquet and Le Touquet Railway Crossing CWGC Cemetery. This is directly opposite Frelinghien which can be reached by a bridge over the Lys River.
The memorial to the Christmas Truce is situated in Frelinghien Park opposite their football ground.
There were a number of unofficial truces held along the line that day though the commands of both sides issued orders against fraternisation.
It would be wrong to suggest that the guns fell silent – in some places they were just as active as ever.
In this particular area the British line was held by the Royal Welch Fusiliers whilst their counterparts were Prussian Jäger (light infantry) and Saxon infantry.
The Germans occupied the village (including the brasserie) with the Welsh dug in to the west.
This was obviously a time of innocence in some respects, trenches were something new and whilst it was evident that nobody was going to be home even before the New Year, nobody had an inkling of the four years of bloodshed that was going to follow.
Tin hats, poison gas, flame throwers, tanks, dog fights and bombers, all that was to come, but for the moment as Christmas eve turned white with frost the soldiers on both sides were intent on celebrating the holiday as best as they could.
The scene was set for an act of mutual collaboration. This took on different forms according to the situation on the front line. How far apart the two lines were, who was in charge and which regiments were involved. It should be remembered that Germany as a nation was quite young and many of the soldiers would have considered themselves as much Saxon or Bavarian as German, with the Prussians considering themselves the foremost amongst equals.
The Germans like the French commence their celebrations on the night of the 24th and in many places along the Western Front it was not long before the British (and French soldiers) could see Christmas trees being hoisted onto the parapets of the German trenches and lit by lanterns.
German soldiers started to sing and were often matched by their allied opponents.
There are numerous different accounts as to what happened but here at Frelinghien the German Jäger holding the Lutun Brewery offered the Welsh barrels of beer from the brasserie and in return received cigarettes and Christmas puddings. All shooting at each other was formally postponed.
It is pretty certain that no football match took place at this point on the line. However there is an account from Leutnant Johannes Niemann, which suggests a match between the Saxon Infantry Regiment Nr. 133 and a Scottish battalion, possibly the Seaforths. This would have been slightly to the south of this monument but still within the boundary of Frelinghien commune.
Whether it really took place or not is up for conjecture but the accepted official score was a win for the
Germans: 2 – 3.
On 11th November 2008 an unveiling ceremony was held in the border village of Frelinghien to mark the Christmas Truce which took place in the village on 25th December 1914.
The plaque is situated on the spot where in 1914 ‘A’ Company of the 2nd Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers took part in a Christmas truce with the Machine-gun Company of the Prussian Jäger Battalion Nr.6 and men of the Saxon Infantry Regiment Nr.134
By chance Mme Penelope Fillon, wife of the French Prime Minister, happens to come from a small village in the Welsh borders near Abergavenny.
Mme Fillon attended the ceremony at the invitation of the Maire of Frelinghien, M Michael Pacaux. She was joined by Margaret Holmes, whose father, Private Frank Richards DCM MM, was a witness of the events and wrote about them after the war.
Freiherr Joachim von Sinner whose grandfather was the Jäger’s Machine Gun Company commander and Major (Retired) Miles Stockwell the grandson of Captain C Stockwell, who had been in the Welsh trenches, also lent their presence to the inauguration.
Accompanied by military representatives of Wales, France and Germany the dignitaries and villagers attended a church service before moving outdoors to unveil the plaque.
The plaque is within a hundred metres of the village football pitch and in the afternoon a match took place between the Royal Welsh and the Marienberger Jäger, Panzergrenadier Battalion 371.
This may be the longest period ever recorded between the Home and Away legs of a football match. Some things have not changed though and once again the German soldiers won: 2 – 1
(5 – 3 on aggregate !).
Sadly whilst the Royal Welsh are the descendants of the RWF, the German constitution forbids any form of tradition. Fortunately the Marienberger Jäger are stationed in Marienberg, Saxony (Thus their name) and were able to represent both the Prussian Jäger and the Saxon Infantry.
For much more information and background to this memorial please visit the organisers’ site.
In December 2011 the English Football Premier League inaugurated a tournament for Junior sides to commemorate the game’s part in the Truce of 1914.
Crossing the bridge over the Lys River will bring you within a matter of minutes to Le Touquet Railway Crossing CWGC Cemetery which was used throughout the war and contains numerous graves of soldiers who fell in its opening months.