December 24th, 1914
“What a miserable Christmas!” I thought. Back home, my family was probably gathered around our dining room table, having a lovely Christmas supper and then opening presents around our Christmas tree; each of my siblings decked out in one of Grandma Kelly’s woolen sweaters. But instead of that, I was stuck in a cold, wet trench, being shot at by the enemy from across the field. My Christmas supper tonight was a can of Bully Beef, a piece of cheese and a small amount of tea. My “present” was a tiny bar of chocolate that I’d share tomorrow with some of my friends. I wasn’t wearing a woolen sweater, but I’d gladly trade my dirty, blood-stained uniform for it any day of the week.
By the looks on some of the other men’s faces, I wasn’t the only one missing home right now. When war had first been declared, we’d all thought that it would end before Christmas, so we’d joined up right away so we wouldn’t miss our chance to fight. But now, it was clear that this war wasn’t ending anytime soon. As soon as we claimed a position, the enemy would take it back. It was an endless tug-of-war over stretches of land that thousands of people died for.
Our commander emerged from the dugout, whistling a Christmas song. I didn’t understand how he could be so happy while being surrounded by so much death and decay. He stopped when he saw our downcast faces, and attempted to cheer us up.
“Chins up, Lads!” he exclaimed merrily. “There’s no sense in being sad on Christmas Eve!” As he walked away, he started to quietly sing “Silent Night”. At first, no one did anything, but I got the feeling that we were supposed to sing along with him, so I reluctantly began. I guess one person doing it was enough to convince the others, because more and more people started joining in. At one point, our whole company was singing! For a few minutes, I was able to forget about my homesickness. Not just because of the singing, but because it was so quiet tonight. No gunshots or explosions rang out in the night, which was quite strange. Was the enemy up to something? I wasn’t sure, but I managed to get a good sleep for once!
The next morning, Christmas Day, brought a lot of surprises. When I awoke, I was startled to see birds hopping around on the battlements. I hadn’t seen a single bird since I’d gotten here, which was going on three months. The quiet from last night was still continuing, so the birds must have thought that it was safe to come back. A few other men were awake, too, enjoying this strange peace, and calling out Christmas greetings. I was heading over to grab my morning rations from the storeroom when the shouting started. At first I thought that I must have heard wrong, because someone was saying that there was an unarmed enemy soldier with his arms raised in No Man’s Land! As I moved closer, I could hear him calling out in broken English for an officer. Since I was one, I decided to go see what he wanted. A few hands reached forward as if to pull me back, but I brushed them aside.
I walked towards him slowly, my hands in the air as well. Soon, we met, mid-way between our trenches. Despite the language barrier, we managed to agree to hold a truce for the day, in the spirit of Christmas. Then, we lowered our arms, and I found myself shaking hands with the enemy! As soon as we announced our agreement, men from both sides started pouring out of the trenches. We played a soccer match together, held a joint Christmas service, and helped bury each other’s dead. The man I’d shaken hands with later introduced himself as Jakob, and together we had a lengthy conversation once we learned that we both spoke French. I even gave him half of my chocolate bar! Jakob shared his plum pudding with me in turn.
Eventually, one of the Generals on our side ordered us back to our trenches. But before leaving, Jakob and I exchanged addresses quickly so we could keep in contact if both of us managed to survive the war. As I walked back, I couldn’t help but smile. What a Christmas!