Saturday, December 24, 2011

4 Days To Christmas - Noel

In another two years time, the world will mark the centenary of the First World War or The Great War as it was then called till Hitler rolled his wagon into Poland and ignited the second.

It's rather ironic that the war waged under the naive assumption that it would be 'the war to end all wars' began at the beginning of the bloodiest century in human history.

However, in the midst of the savagery of this war that saw the death of millions of young men on the battlefield, there is also a story of hope and peace.

I find it so inspiring that I repeated it last year, and don't mind repeating it again as long as I continue writing these Christmas countdown posts.

It's an unusual story and comes across as almost unreal and yet it's true. Somehow the most inspiring real life events are a bit like that - you can't believe it could be possible but then again you can't deny it.

I won't say much about it except leave you to read the lyrics below which explains what really happened that Christmas eve many years ago.

What I really like about it is that it sums up what Christmas is all about or should be - peace and reconciliation with a bit of joyous festivity thrown in for good measure.


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 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 towards us!" the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone 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 squeeze box 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 began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous 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 for evermore.

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/Appalsongs (ASCAP)

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