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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.

 

 

“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 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,

“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 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 of men.

 

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.

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. In Liverpool I dwell.

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.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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