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New stories of football in World War One brought to light ahead of Christmas truce anniversary

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New papers discovered by a Birmingham historian have shed light on how widely football was played during World War One. For all the latest family history news, discoveries and expert guidance, read Family Tree magazine.

Letters and photographs from the period have been brought to light by Dr Islam Issa, Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, which show the role football played for soldiers during the Great War
 
The famed Christmas Truce match is believed to have been played in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day 1914 and the discovered items show that football was a regular part of the troops’ everyday lives. The pieces include a previously unpublished Christmas letter from a soldier based in France explaining how regularly he trains for the football team, and a photograph showing French children watch a British cavalry regiment play a match against Indian soldiers of the 18th Lancers.
 
Dr Issa has been researching the Muslim contribution to the First World War by going through thousands of archives, personal letters and documents as part of an exhibition commissioned by and held at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester.
 
The materials have shown how frequently football was played and that the Allies’ football teams included soldiers from Commonwealth countries such as the Muslim and Indian servicemen featured in the exhibition.
 
A KEY PASTIME
 
Dr Issa said: “The Christmas Truce match is a popular story because it reminds us that regular people were involved in the war and how political choices don't always represent common people.
 
“What is for sure is that football was widespread during the World War One and was played by soldiers all around the world. They weren't always working or fighting – a lot of their time was spent behind the lines, so football was a key pastime.
 
“Officers encouraged the soldiers to play football in order to increase morale and perhaps to keep their fitness levels up too. In fact, in England, the Football Association and some football clubs would put posters up to help with the initial recruitment effort".
 
Image: French children watch a British cavalry regiment play a match against Indian soldiers of the 18th Lancers.
 

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