Just about this time each year, I begin to feel
overwhelmed by Christmas preparations. I found the following story last
year, and use it for my attitude adjustment.
It is a true story. It happened five months after World
War I had begun. The German, French and British soldiers were tired of
the senseless killing. They disobeyed their commanding officers and
fraternized with the enemy along two-thirds of the Western Front. This
was a crime punishable by death in times of war.
German troops held up Christmas trees from their
trenches with signs, “Merry Christmas. You no shoot, we no shoot.”
Thousands of men streamed across the no-mans land that
was covered with corpses. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged pictures
of loved ones, shared rations, played football, and even roasted pigs.
Soldiers hugged men they had been trying to kill just a few hours before
. . . They agreed to warn each other, if the officers forced them to
fire their weapons, and aim high.
is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool,
Two years ago the war was
waiting for me after school.
Belgium and to
to Germany to
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 the 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,
Ye Merry Gentlemen” struck up some lads from
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
towards us!” the front line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one
lone figure coming from their side.
His truce flag, like a
Christmas star, shone 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
squeeze box and they had a violin,
This curious and unlikely band
Soon daylight stole upon us
With sad farewells we each
began 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 forever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver.
Each Christmas come since
World War One, 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 all the same.”
Ian Calhoun, a Scot, was the commanding officer of the
British forces involved in the story. He was courtmartialed for
“consorting with the enemy” and sentenced to death. He was later
pardoned by King George V.
This story gives us a glimpse of the world as we wish it
could be and says, “This really happened once.” It is like hearing that
our deepest wishes really are true. The world could be different. It was
for one night, just 100 years ago.