If there's something that makes me cry, it's the Christmas Truce that took place during the First World War. The more I think about it, the more it strikes me as one of the most beautiful and one of the saddest things that ever happened in history. Every Christmas, I find myself sitting in this trance, thinking about what it must have been like - what those lads must have felt. Last Christmas, it was mentioned several times, even in Queen Elizabeth's Christmas speech, because it marked 100 years since it happened, and since then I just can't get over it. It must have been amazing, emotional, terrible, beautiful; all at the same time.
Imagine you are a soldier in the cold, stony trenches. You've seen people die, you've suffered. You've shot men of the other side, doing your duty. You've probably seen some of your very own school-friends die; you've seen wounds, heard screams of pain and nightmares. I know life in the trenches must have been ghastly. My great-grandfather served in WW1, and my father says that he would never talk about it. People were traumatized for life.
I am currently writing a story, which has a thick chapter about a soldier telling his war story. I suppose this is a good excuse to show you some snippets.
Douglas got killed. I saw him fall down. Part of an explosion bomb hit him on the chest. I saw his hat fly into a puddle, and I saw his khaki vest drenched with blood. I thank the Lord that I didn’t see more than that. I am traumatized enough.
Michael and I clung on to each other. But he died, too. In the gas. The last thing I saw, Jane, was his face, yelling, getting more distant in the gas. I heard him yell. “Lionel! Lionel!”
And then you had that one Christmas, in the middle of it all, when several hundreds of men decided to have peace and get together in No Man's Land. They sang Silent Night Together, the British lads and the German lads. They played football together, gave each other gifts, swapped coats and hats, lighted each other's cigarettes. They took photographs of them together, casually giving each other hugs. They wished each other a Merry Christmas.
You see now why this makes me cry? The men weren't at war, the Countries were. The men so weren't. They were just doing their duty - they could totally be best friends with the Other Side.
"First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing — two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war."
"I walked across to my man and shook hands, I asked him how he liked it. ‘Terrible, I wish I was back in Germany’ (in Good English!). I wanted a souvenir so I took my knife out of my pocket and he let me cut a button from his coat. I could only give him a few old biscuits from my pocket."
"Eventually the English brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it.Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together for a time... I told them we didn’t want to shoot on the Second Day of Christmas either. They agreed."
"Really you would hardly have thought we were at war. Here we were, enemy talking to enemy. They [are] like ourselves with mothers, with sweethearts, with wives waiting to welcome us home again. And to think within a few hours we shall be firing at each other again."
"They say they won’t fire tomorrow if we don’t so I suppose we shall get a bit of a holiday — perhaps. After exchanging autographs and them wishing us a Happy New Year we departed and came back and had our dinner. We can hardly believe that we’ve been firing at them for the last week or two — it all seems so strange."
"Even as I write, I can scarcely credit what I have seen and done. It has been a wonderful day."
(Actual WW1 letters about the Christmas Truce.)
War is so pointless - so ridiculously pointless. The Christmas Truce shows that more vividly than anything else can. These chaps were just... chaps. They fought against each other, killed each other - while they should have played football together every day. Imagine what they must have felt like, when they said goodbye after their time together in no-man's-land. They must have felt so emotional; they must have looked at each other and thought, "Tomorrow I might kill you."
It just breaks me, okay? Shush. Don't talk to me. Just watch this beautiful Christmas ad about it. You will probably cry, because I always do, and I've watched it loads of times. (And the music is from 'True Grit', if that makes some of you want to see it. Heh, heh.)
"Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together for a time..." (A WW1 letter.)