It’s Christmas Eve and with so many new subscribers, I’m happy to post a link to the Christmas story I’ve posted each year since 2013.
It’s a story that begs to be remembered. But this year, I’m afraid I have no more words.
Here’s the link to last year’s post, which includes background and many links to further information. The song and lyrics follow below.
December 25, 1914
Christmas in the Trenches, written by John McCutcheon in 1989, is sung by him in this YouTube video. Lyrics are below.
Christmas in the Trenches
My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
From Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were still, no songs of peace were sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lyin’ with me mess-mates 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 singin’ bloody well you know,” my partner says to me.
Soon one by one each German voice joined in, in harmony.
The cannons rested silent. And the gas cloud 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 comin’ towards us now,” the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on the plain so bright,
As he bravely trudged, unarmed, into the night.
Then 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 football game, we gave ’em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home,
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Tom 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 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 forever more.
Oh, my name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned its lessons well.
For 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.
— John McCutcheon “Christmas in the trenches” 1989
May you find peace this holiday season.
Of course I know the story and the song, but we’re listening to Philadelphia’s WXPN right now and the song is playing right now. How’s that for timing? 🙂
Merry Christmas, Janet!
Hi Merril, I’m glad to hear the
dongSong has made it to mainstream radio. It’s where it belongs. And WXPN, that very quickly became my station when I lived in Philly. Michaela Majoun was a gem. Happy Hanukkah.
“The Dong?” I’m not sure that XPN is mainstream radio, but I enjoy their weekend morning “Sleepy Hollow” shows and World Cafe Live is national now. (The World Cafe is where younger daughter and I saw Dar Williams in October.) I guess you’re getting ready for your trip now. Enjoy!
Great stuff, Janet. Thanks for posting 🙂