A Christmas Truce Song

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Wed Dec 25 11:00:22 MST 2002

Christmas in the Trenches


by John McCutcheon

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 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 toward us!" the front line sentry cried

All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side

His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown 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 squeezebox 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 prepared to settle back to war

But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous 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 forevermore

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell

Each Christmas come since World War I, 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 the same

© 1984 John McCutcheon - All rights reserved


On Christmas Day, 1914, in the first year of World War I, German,

British and

French soldiers disobeyed their superiors and fraternized with "the


along two-thirds of the Western Front. German troops held Christmas

trees up

out of the trenches with signs, "Merry Christmas." "You no shoot, we no

shoot." Thousands of troops streamed across no-man's land strewn with


corpses. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged photographs of loved ones


home, shared rations, played football, even roasted some pigs. Soldiers

embraced men they had been trying to kill a few short hours before. They

agreed to warn each other if the top brass forced them to fire their


and to aim high.

A shudder ran through the high command on either side. Here was disaster


the making: soldiers declaring their brotherhood with each other and


to fight. Generals on both sides declared this spontaneous peacemaking

to be

treasonous and subject to court martial. By March, 1915 the


movement had been eradicated and the killing machine put back in full

operation. By the time of the armistice in 1918, fifteen million people


be slaughtered.

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