On Christmas Day 1914, opposing forces laid down their arms and came together in camaraderie for the Christmas Truce all along the Western Front in the First World War. And earlier this month, our Academy’s Under-12 group visited sites throughout Ypres as part of a trip that combined football and education.
After an early Friday-morning start, the group of players and coaches arrived in Ypres in mid-afternoon and soon visited the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing. The site pays tribute to the 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers whose graves are unknown, and the team laid a wreath in commemoration before observing the Last Post.
Saturday morning allowed the young Reading players and coaches to visit the Memorial Museum Passchendaele, where they learned more about life in the trenches – and experienced what a trench meal consisted of.
They also visited the Perth China Wall and laid a wreath at the grave of Pte Jack Huggins, one of the 15 footballers to have represented Reading who died during the First World War.
Later that day they travelled to Hooge Crater where they were able to take part in a recreation of the Christmas Truce. That was the impromptu ceasefire between those who had been at war, where soldiers from either side of the trenches met in no-man’s-land to exchange food and souvenirs and, in one of the most poignant images of the First World War, to play a friendly game of football on the battlefields.
And returning to the Menin Gate in the evening, the youngsters were able to locate where Pte James Comrie was commemorated and to pay their tributes.
Their final day in Belgium had its focus on football. Travelling to the impressive playing facilities at KVK Westhoek, which were opened five years ago thanks to funding from the Premier League, our youngsters competed in a series of friendly fixtures.
After observing a minute’s silence, and after an exchange of gifts in the spirit of the Christmas Truce, the round-robin tournament began at 11am sharp with games played against clubs which included Belgian side KRC Genk and French club LOSC Lille.
The experience gained for our Under-12s was about more than just football. It was a chance to learn more about the sacrifices that were made by young people a century ago which have shaped our world.
Academy Coach Sarah Lowden said, “The football tournament on Sunday gave the boys unique opportunities to play a range of teams from Belgium, France and Germany and we saw some fantastic football on display. There were some special moments too including the minute’s silence at 11am to remember those involved in the war, and to pay our respects as part of the truce spirit, as well as the exchange of gifts before kick-off. Overall, the whole trip was an exceptional experience that all involved will remember forever.”
Foundation Phase Coach Steve Lapere added: “It was a great experience for everyone involved as staff and players and we got an awful lot out of the trip. In the build-up we had various workshops with speakers who told the boys about the different venues and the events of the First World War, which helped the boys understand and comprehend the educational side of the trip. However, the holistic experience of visiting the sites in and around Ypres and what it must have been like to fight in battle 100 years ago, with the trenches and the stories that went alongside it, was remarkable. It certainly made every one of us incredibly grateful and humble.”
A very Merry Christmas from Reading Football Club to all of our supporters.