Silent night, Stille nicht

The new year is hardly out of short pants before I come down with a serious bout of fixture congestion. Normally the only reliable medical intervention for curing this largely self-inflicted malady is some swift decision making (more Commonly know chez TLF as umm-ing and ahh-ing). However on this occasion alternative therapy in the form of theatre tickets booked 12 months previous and two pre-paid nights in a hotel mean the ‘problem’ is swiftly dealt with. There will be no Clarence Park OR Filbert Way. There will be only Stratford upon Avon. Drama on stage rather than drama on the pitch. And as it happens football on stage as well……

As any fule will kno 2014 was the hundredth anniversary of the start of the war that was sadly not the ‘war to end all wars’. Cue, and rightly so, much historical information, commemoration and respect in various guises. One area that will often get your Curmudgeonly forces (geddit) of accuracy in a bit of a tizz is the whole Christmas Day games of football played in no mans land during a brief festive truce agreed by those at the front-line. There is the plain old factual objection:

“Did it happen/didn’t it, not sure it was 11v11, was the ref FIFA approved and was kick off time moved to suit SkySports?”

And also the “you do know war is quite nasty and people die don’t you and so concentrating on football is a bit thoughtless/unrealistic/etc etc” perspective. I think most people do get that latter point but it is always the one-offs and the stories of compassion and hope that tend to grab people, particularly those who are perhaps not the most enthusiastic of history scholars.

With a resounding “up yer kaiser” to to the naysayers on this subject the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned, “The Christmas Truce” for its 2014 winter family show. It followed the history of the reserves of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment who are sent to the front line in autumn 1914 following significant casualties. Local boys to Stratford of course and so the opportunity for some dodgy Brummie accents and a few choice Shakespeare references in the script…Honestly you’d never catch me doing that….the Shakespeare references that is. My Brummie accent is top dollar bab!

Central to the story was the character of Bruce Bairnsfather their second lieutenant whose cartoons from the front helped make him famous (check out for further educashional information). He was one of the officers who negotiated the truce in their muddy part of Belgium and before the football match had even been thought of he agreed with his German counterparts that bot sides should be allowed to collect and bury their dead. That was part of the play, in case any grumps think the whole episode was painted as some early, jolly but slightly muddy forerunner of the World Cup.. And yes that bit did make me cry.

The whole evening was entertaining, well acted poignant, cleverly staged – cricket, war and football on one stage isn’t easily done and when peppered with liberal use of the word ‘fart’. What wasn’t to like.

My only quibble? I think it is a little irresponsible in a play aimed partly at children to include the line, “If there’s one thing I know about Germans, they’re useless at penalties.” Lies like that can do nothing but harm to future generations.

Bairnsfather Fox

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