Christmas Truce, 1914

This Christmas is the one hundredth anniversary of the Christmas Truce. The story is touching and sad. As the name implies, a truce between the British and Germans took place on Christmas Eve, 1914. Amazingly, the truce took place all along the four hundred mile long line of trenches. An article in The Wall Street Journal claims that this night’s truce is unique in the history of warfare. There are many accounts of the events. Now there are three books and a wonderful, moving song.

I was so moved by the song when I heard it long ago, I knew I would include the event in The Angel of Mons. In the final chapter, “Tommy Atkins,

Angel of Memory, Grief, and Tears” I inserted this tale.

 

Whenever I fought at a moment of need, one of the Ruffians or Victors would appear. Gabriel Jessop or Carrew Nancarew might help me repair the gun, hand me a part. Catchpole and Palmer might march along to the trenches, full kit, singing a London stage ditty, its verses replaced with ribald lyrics to lighten my heart, make me blush. “How’s old Vicki holding up? Had to piss in the canister to keep her cool when there is no water about?” Catchpole might ask.

 

“You uncouth old fool. Besides, I am Gunner One now. Not my task.”

 

Or at night under the glory and glare of tracer bullets, looking across No Man’s Land at the Somme. At the Christmas Truce, December 24, 1914, the Victors and Ruffians, all eleven killed, filed onto the field, made up a proper football squad, played against a German team. For all I knew, the Germans might also have been departed dead playing.

 

The Victors broke out a case of brandy, the Ruffians, wine. We drank with the Germans, toasted St. George. The Germans raised their glasses to St. Michael. Our hearts begged the saints to signal that we would not fire another shot, the war over, the peace to hold forever, all to return to homes and families. We ate sausage spread with dark mustard spread on rye bread, pickles, and roasted potatoes. We served up plum pudding with hard sauce and mince pies. That night my angel brothers reverently carried the dead and tenderly moved the wounded to aid stations.

 

I awoke next morning to gunfire and bombardment. My heart, filled with joy and hope the night before–last night a heavenly miracle–shriveled to a walnut-hard center of grief and regret.

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