It was the December of 1914, a few months into the First World War (or the Great War as it was called then).
Mobilized troops already had had enough of the trench warfare and were looking forward to getting home for Christmas, to spend time with their family.
Orders from the brass up above made sure that none left their posts from the war-front.
So, it was settled then. They’d not leave ground zero. At least not while still breathing.
The following story is narrated from the fictional perspective of a very-real, young, Private (later author) from the British Infantry, rifleman Henry Williamson.
“Gentlemen, today we fight no more. Lay your rifles to rest.”
The sun was nearly out, and everywhere I lay my eyes on I saw people sloppily walking back to their trenches.
I felt a sharp nudge on my back as my friend and fellow rifleman Wilkins “Willy” prodded me with the butt of his gun.
“Make it quick” he began. “The cake’s almost over!”.
I tightened the grip on my rifle and slowly ran to the ration hoard.
The night was getting darker and darker, we could see nothing for a while until the pale moonlight sifted through the clouds.
It was almost midnight, just when I had started to fall asleep that I felt a second nudge.
“Look at that”.
There it was, on the No Man’s Land, lining the German trenches, candles. Well-lit candles.
And we could hear faintly, a gradually approaching noise of Christmas carols.
“This could be a trap. Stay advised” cautioned a neighboring Lieutenant.
But we could already see our barracks moving towards them, now singing carols of their own.
I found myself following them, like a moth drawn to a flame.
And at the border, I heard “Frohe Festtage!”. Seasons greetings.
At the stroke of midnight, we sang “Silent Night” together.
The next morning, we had long crossed the trenches into opposing enemy territories.
A young German officer I’d met earlier had given me some of his tobacco for me to smoke my pipe.
I couldn’t believe what my eyes were feasting upon.
German and British soldiers, riflemen, medics, and anybody else that was here, laughing and exchanging whatever they could get their hands on. Tobacco, alcohol, rationed meats, and even HATS!
What a wonderful sight.
It was around noon when someone had the bright idea of kicking a tin of bully-beef as a football.
The “football” was passed back, and so it began.
For a few good hours, we did nothing but play football.
”Would be nice if we settled the war this way eh?”
It was around evening later when the German soldiers slowly started retreating to their side.
Word around was that the German High Command wasn’t too pleased to hear about this friendly exchange.
We weren’t better off either, a lot of our senior ranking officers expressed their clear displeasure on the same.
The only disappointment in the faces of us Privates was on having to return to the trenches, knowing we’ll have to open fire on them a few days from now. The futility of war versus the spirit of brotherhood. Some of us had even made friends with them.
Like me, with the young man who had given up his tobacco for the month.
He bid goodbye to me and walked away, after making a quick comment in a thick German accent.
“We’re not so different, you and I.”
CC: Unofficial World Cup
CC: Enemy soldiers decorating their mutual Christmas tree
CC: German and Brit soldiers exchange their headgear