Tomorrow marks the centenary of the famous incident when German and British soldiers declared an unofficial Christmas truce and met in no-man’s land to exchange gifts.
There was even a burial service with the bodies of German and British soldiers being buried alongside each other.
On one particular stretch of the front, a football match was played between German and British troops, allegedly started by a British soldier kicking a football out of his trench. The Germans joined in and according to one report Germany won the match 3-2. Obviously, there was no Russian linesman available to rescue England on that occasion!
On some parts of the front the truce lasted until the New Year, but the war was far from being over and dragged on until November 1918, before starting up again in September 1939. This was the war that affected my childhood and it is therefore reassuring to know that for most of Europe the only war these days is a war of words. When it comes to commemorating WWI, ‘Fields in Trust’, formerly known as ‘The National Playing Fields Association’, has come up with a splendid idea. The ‘Centenary Fields’ project enables a piece of land to be protected as a public open space in perpetuity. The obvious choice for a Centenary Field in Hunstanton would be the Recreation Ground, where a plaque at the entrance reads: “This recreation ground was subscribed for by the townsfolk of Hunstanton to commemorate their united efforts during 1939-1945. Formerly handed over to Hunstanton Council on 1st June 1949.”
It might appear from these words that the recreation ground is already in safe hands, but in fact it was only a ‘lease’ that was handed over in 1949 and in 1974 this lease was passed on to West Norfolk Council, along with the leasehold and freehold ownership of other more prominent parcels of land in the town. Some of this land was subject to a legally binding covenant, blatantly ignored by WNC in 2002 when granting planning permission for the erection of the non-pier entertainment centre on The Green, but still enforceable.
In recent years, West Norfolk Council has foiled two attempts to register The Green as a Town Green and in 2012 rejected a proposal by the town council to nominate the whole of The Green as a Queen Elizabeth II Field to mark the diamond jubilee.
Based on its track record, West Norfolk Council would have to undergo a change of heart similar to that experienced by Ebeneezer Scrooge in order to make progress towards safeguarding The Green or the recreation ground for future generations as a Centenary Field.
However, the Christmas Truce proves what can be achieved if both sides are prepared to meet in no-man’s land, so perhaps on this occasion West Norfolk Council will make amends by giving the townsfolk of Hunstanton a Christmas present they deserve for their united efforts.