Doctor Who & The Pipes Of Peace

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Christopher Morley has a kickabout in the trenches with the Ninth Doctor...


As we look ahead to Christmas, being sentimental types we can also look back at those past - as the Tenth Doctor would in the IDW comic story The Forgotten.


With all but his most recent memories wiped, he would quite literally revisit his past selves, remembering events from his previous incarnations in order to restore his fading memories across the the six parts of the narrative - Amputation, Renewal, Misdirection, Survival, Reunion & Revelation.

And its the man he had been before his festive change of face/personality to whom we'll turn as we look back at the Ninth Doctor's part in what is perhaps the first England-Germany international. Arriving in the trenches of World War I, he & Rose find themselves involved in the preparations for a kickabout which served as part of an all too brief ceasefire.


The story goes here that a German football finds its way into British territory, with the Doctor challenging the Germans to a game to get it back! But we might well wonder what really set the wheels in motion for this most famous of matches?

The Imperial War Museum is perhaps the most authoritative source on the matter. This most definitive of accounts suggests that several such matches took place as soldiers from both sides forgot about the fighting for the festive season.
"Late on Christmas Eve 1914, men of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) heard German troops in the trenches opposite them 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 impromptu games of football.

They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts. After Boxing Day, meetings in no man's land dwindled out."
A letter from a serving soldier who was part of it all serves to capture the sense of occasion, Captain A.D Chater's message to his dear old mum back home confirming the kick-off time of the truce itself.
“I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. About 10 o'clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.

We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas. I went out myself and shook hands with several of their officers and men.

From what I gathered most of them would be glad to get home again as we should – we have had our pipes playing all day and everyone has been walking about in the open unmolested.”
There was perhaps a more prosaic explanation for the choice of football over any other form of male bonding, too. As the historian Gerald DeGroot wrote-
"Fraternisation led inevitably to football. Men who could not otherwise communicate shared a common language in the game. “After a short while somebody punted across a football,” one subaltern recalled. “The ball landed amongst the Germans and they immediately kicked it back at our men … it was a melĂȘe. It wasn’t a question of 10-a-side, it was a question of 70 Germans against 50 Englishmen."
That scenario was repeated all along the line. The locations of these matches remain obscure, in part because few soldiers subsequently admitted taking part.

On January 1st 1915, an anonymous major wrote to The Times that an English regiment “had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2”. That score echoes through the accounts. Yet since the stories originate from various parts of the front, this suggests either incredible consistency in the results, or a remarkable willingness to remember the event in exactly the same way. Equally possible, all recollections might relate to a single mythical encounter that never actually took place.

In truth, it matters not if a match ending 3-2 actually occurred, since myths are often more powerful than facts. The “match” is universally celebrated, even by the English who might otherwise prefer to forget another defeat to the Germans. At least it did not end in penalties.

Playing football rudely exposed the contrived nature of wartime animosity. For that reason, it was quickly quashed.


And who officiated? Well, according the The Fogotten it was the Doctor himself who took up the whistle! Perhaps wisely he departed soon after the game. Much further forward in time, circa Aliens Of London, though, he would admit to Mickey that the TARDIS scanner could tune into coverage of matches....
MICKEY: How many channels do you get?
DOCTOR: All the basic packages.
MICKEY: You get sports channels?
DOCTOR: Yes, I get the football.
And as military historian Paul Leader would write of the game which played into the truce, "It is incredible that something as simple as a game of football could overcome their differences." But did the exchange between Smith & the Doctor help them overcome their hurdles? Certainly not at the outset!
MICKEY: You ruined my life, Doctor. They thought she was dead. I was a murder suspect because of you.
DOCTOR: You see what I mean? Domestic.
MICKEY: I bet you don't even remember my name.
DOCTOR: Ricky.
MICKEY: It's Mickey.
DOCTOR: No, it's Ricky.
MICKEY: I think I know my own name.
DOCTOR: You think you know your own name? How stupid are you?
No pipes of peace to be heard in the vicinity there, though the video for Paul McCartney's 1983 festive hit mentioning them does include visual references to the famous game in the trenches.



Best to close with his former Beatles mate John Lennon - later to be played by Christopher Eccleston in Lennon Naked - and his contention that Christmas is a lot merrier now war is over.



Makes for a wonderful Christmastime all round, surely?

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