Wiltshire Publications

Westbury stonemason to build memorial to honour war truce football game

Nick Johnson (centre) with England football manager Roy Hodgson and players Nathan Redmond, Jack Butland, Joe Hart and Theo Walcott

Nick Johnson (centre) with England football manager Roy Hodgson and players Nathan Redmond, Jack Butland, Joe Hart and Theo Walcott

A Westbury stonemason is to build a memorial in honour of the World War I Christmas truce football game of December 1914.

The match, between German and Allied troops, is remembered for bringing World War One to a temporary halt and is seen as one of the most iconic moments of the First World War.

Nick Johnson from Westbury stonemasons Young Johnson has been asked to build the memorial which will be sited at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and officially unveiled in December.

Nick will be using a design created by ten-year-old Spencer Turner from Newcastle who won a national competition backed by Prince William.

Prince William said, “We all grew up with the story of soldiers from both sides putting down their arms on Christmas Day, and it remains wholly relevant today as a message of hope over adversity, even in the bleakest of times.”

Spencer Turner’s design was chosen as the winner by the Prince himself and Arsenal and England footballer Theo Walcott.

Nick Johnson visited the National Memorial Arboretum last week and met with England manager Roy Hodgson, coach Gareth Southgate and England stars Theo Walcott, Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Nathan Redmond.

“It’s strange as I’m not a football fan really. But I don’t suppose it’s every day you get a chance to meet the England football manager. To be honest, I didn’t know who the players were; it was only back in Westbury when I showed the picture to the other guys at work that they told me who they all were!

“The day was more about Spencer, the young lad who designed the memorial. I was showing him how to cut letters in a piece of stone when the England players walked in but he was concentrating so hard, he didn’t even notice they were there. And as soon as they’d gone, he was back to cutting more stone. He seemed to enjoy being a stonemason as much as meeting the England players.

“He’s done an amazing design – especially for someone so young – and it will make a fantastic memorial as everyone knows the story of the Christmas truce.”

This latest memorial follows on from Young Johnson being commissioned to build a new memorial for the war in Afghanistan, also to be homed at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

The piece will be based on the memorial wall that currently stands at Camp Bastion, the British military base in Helmand Province. The wall has the names of all 453 British soliders who have been killed since military operations began in 2001.

Nick has crafted 18 military memorials in the past to commemorate, among others, the Iraq and Falklands wars, as well as for the Essex and Royal Leicestershire Regiments, the RAF, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. He also recently restored Westbury’s own World War 1 memorial on Edward Street.

Young Johnson, based at Westbury Cemetery and the West Wilts Trading Estate, is a specialist monumental masonry firm, specialising in memorial headstones, carvings, kitchen work areas, fireplaces and any other type of stone masonry. For more information call 01373 859629.

The famous “Christmas truce” of 1914

Late on Christmas Eve 1914, men of the British Expeditionary Force heard the Germans singing carols and patriotic songs and saw lanterns and small fir trees along their trenches.

Messages began to be shouted between the trenches. The following day, British and German soldiers met in No Man’s Land and exchanged gifts, took photographs and some played football. They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts.

Some officers viewed the truce as a chance to improve living conditions in the trenches, while others worried that such unwarlike behaviour would undermine fighting spirit.

The high commands on both sides took measures to ensure such fraternisation would not happen again, and the 1914 Christmas Truce remained a unique event on the Western Front.

Source: Imperial War Museum