Friday 16 December 2011

1914 - The Christmas Truce

Across the freezing Flanders fields a most unusual calm befell the war-torn land.  Troops from both Germany and Britain met in no-man's-land to exchange gifts, sing carols and enjoy a day of peace amid the hell of war.

There are many accounts of the event and earlier this year I visited one of the sites where the Truce took place close to Ploegsteert Wood (called Plugstreet by the British Troops).

This short, unofficial armistice, should be an example to us - if only all hostilities could be halted this Christmas would indeed be a blessing.

December 1914

Night turned a clear frost,
the moon’s harsh splendour
veiling the sleeping green.
Belonging to no-one
but those
whose eternal slumber
hopeless strewn
stilled the darkness

Torn fields fell silent,
and eerily still.
Anguished limbs cradled,
sore, weary bodies
resting on mud
and damp straw.
Wood from trees,
shelled and torn
kindled fires
slowly coaxed into life
on the eve of Christmas morn.

A mouth-organ rendered
a carolling tune.
Flames leapt higher
to warm
frost-fastened mud.
A combatant choir
merried the night
distant gunnery rumbles
served to remind.

A radiant host shone
beyond the sleeping green.
Glistening stars of light
danced along enemy lines.
Edging the trenches
with brightness, and then
in a language strange and deep
the singing of carols
the earlier refrain,
on the eve of Christmas morn.

Sleep was evasive,
in the frozen fields,
until darkness
slowly crumbled away.
In the mist-filled dawn
myriad lanterns
still sparkled and shone.
Then a greeting was called:
Frohe Weihnachten,
A Christmas Day wish
from the adversary.

Grey soldiers moved forward
their hands held no guns,
Maxims were muted,
calumet, quiet;
the fallen had been laid to rest
in the snow dusted earth.
Howitzers were hushed and calm.
Tommys walked out to welcome:
 “Come and join our celebration,”
Peace was the holy day’s gift.

An unforeseen barrier
broken down
language of gesture was seen.
The Kaiser’s cigars
for tobacco exchanged.
A button, a belt badge,
offered in trust.
Princess Mary’s puddings
a Eucharist shared,
all around
cold gusts thrilled the air.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Voices faded and fell back
behind the lines.
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund
The hour of salvation strikes
for us.
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, the saviour is here.

With gladness they moved,
to sleep soundly that night
gifts and souvenirs
held safe
in frozen hands.
Reminders of sharing
an armistice day;
Friede auf erden,
wohlwollen für alle menschen.
A Christmas Truce, indeed.

Karen Ette  December 2011

To read a cracking time-travel story, click here

A very good website is where you can read letters from the men who experienced the Truce

© Karen Ette