Christmas In The Trenches

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The Day Play Stopped A War

Not many people have heard the story of the Christmas Truce.

On Christmas Day, 1914, only 5 months into World War I, German, British, and French soldiers, already sick and tired of the senseless killing, disobeyed their superiors and fraternized with "the enemy" along two-thirds of the Western Front.

They sang Christmas carols, exchanged photographs of loved ones back home, shared rations, played football, and even roasted some pigs. Soldiers embraced men they had been trying to kill a few short hours before.

The Song That Tells The Story of The 1914 Christmas Truce

Christmas In The Trenches Song Lyrics


My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.

'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung
Our families back in England were toasting us that day
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, "Now listen up, me boys!'' each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.

"He's singing bloody well, you know!'' my partner says to me
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen'' struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was "Stille Nacht." "Tis 'Silent Night','' says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.

"There's someone coming toward us!'' the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?''.

'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.

My name is Francis Tolliver, In Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I, I've learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we're the same.

John McCutcheon

 

The story of the Christmas Truce of World War I was not only an act of deviance but a massively brave risk.  There are stories of soldiers walking into No Man's Land across the entire German/English front.  Some were successful at calling a truce while others were shot as soon as they stepped onto the field.  People were willing to risk their life simply for connection and the possibility of peace for at least one day.

It's also amazing that even though many of them didn't speak each other's language, the exchanging of chocolates, cigarettes, and other gifts, eventually lead to play.  That they were willing to play football with soldiers who had shot at them for months is both astonishing and humbling.  To think that a ball brought them together in a way that words could have never achieved.


















The darker part of the story is that soldiers who did play and connect with the soldiers from the other side were unwilling to fire upon them the very next day. So, they had to pull those soldiers off the line.  It is now a rule of engagement in war to attack during holidays to prevent the possibility of nostalgia or humanity to creep into the soldier's mind when at war.  

To think that the Military Super Powers of the world are afraid of connection, humanity, and play sends a strong message of how vital these experiences are to the human condition and how even in the chaos of war,
we desire to choose the WE over the ME.

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