Private Wilson woke with a start and automatically grabbed his rifle. He held it close to him, its icy cold touch keeping him alert. He dragged in another frozen breath, burning his already chilled lungs. He listened carefully to the still winter night. Something wasnt right. He put his safety cock on and ran along the trench, stooped over, being careful not to wake the few men that were able to sleep.
He ran up to the automatic gunners post where Private Millings was.
Whats going on? he whispered.
Private Millings shrugged. Nothing, absolutely nothing. Its unnatural
Private Wilson looked up at the sky. The moon was getting lower; the first rays of sunlight were just starting to peek through the broken branches of the torn forest around them. Private Wilson smiled.
Hey, Millings. Look
Private Millings looked up. What?
The sun is coming up. Its Christmas
Private Millings smiled and pushed his helmet back a little.
So it is he said quietly. Then he frowned and went back to watching the desolate no-mans land and the German trenches that lay beyond them. What a god-awful way to spend Christmas he muttered to himself.
Private Wilson looked out at the frozen landscape sadly. Yet again he wondered what his family was doing at that very moment. Surely his little girl would be opening up what few presents they could afford. He smiled to himself at the thought of her happy, innocent smiles.
Private Wilson was suddenly pulled out of his blissful dreams by a loud metallic click. He looked over at Private Millings.
The Private was aiming the automatic out into no-mans land.
What is it? asked Private Wilson.
Kraut mumbled Private Millings.
Private Wilson looked out past Private Millings.
Wait! he cried, grabbing the nose of the automatic weapon He has a white flag!
Private Millings looked back up into the no-mans land.
So youre right. Didnt see it against all the snow
Private Wilson glanced at him. He was lying.
Id better go see what he wants
Shouldnt the Captain do that? asked Private Millings.
Private Wilson glanced down the trench. The Captain was sleeping fitfully in the frozen dirt. Private Wilson looked back at his comrade.
The lucky sod fell asleep. We should leave him he took off his boot and took out his dingy grey sock. He put his boot back on and pulled himself up to the edge of the man made trench.
It is Christmas after all. This can be his gift.
Private Millings went to pull him back.
Wait! It could be a trap!
Private Wilson looked out at the German waving his soiled white sock. He shook his head
I dont think so and with that he hauled himself over the edge of the trench and stood up. He started waving his sock in sweeping arcs over his head. He looked over at the German and smiled. The German waved.
Then the German soldier started walking further into the no-mans land. Private Wilson felt it only natural to go out to meet him.
What are you doing! hissed Private Millings from the trench.
But he and the others on duty who joined him were ignored. They called louder until the whole trench was awake. They all tensely watched the two soldiers walk towards each other over the snow and solid mud.
Privat Kirsch nudged his sleeping comrade in the side. The man sat up instantly, gasping for air, he pushed the butt of his pistol into Privat Kirschs chest.
Privat Kirsch just looked at him.
Entschuldigung said the man and he put the gun away. Du hast mir angst gemacht
Privat Kirsch pointed out at no-mans land.
Look what Leuthaut Adler is doing
The soldier looked to where Steinreich was pointing. He leapt up.
What is he doing? That could so easily be a trap! gasped the soldier.
Privat Kirsch shook his head.
I dont think so
Shouldnt we tell anyone? asked the soldier.
Privat Kirsch looked at him.
Didnt anyone tell you? The Kapitan was KIA last night.
The soldier looked horrified So whos in charge now?
Privat Kirsch pointed out to no-mans land again. Adler
Leuthaut Adler felt the fierce wind tug at his clothes, the cold bit at the skin that was bare to the elements. But he kept smiling at the soldier in front of him.
Christmus? he struggled to say.
The English soldier looked surprised but nodded. Then the English soldier said something that he didnt understand. He sincerely wished he had made more of an attempt at learning passable English in school.
But then the English soldier did something Leuthaut Adler wasnt quite expecting either.
He stuck out his hand and smiled. Leuthaut Adler was momentarily confused but then gripped the hand strongly and shook it. That was something they didnt need language for.
Happy Christmas said the soldier.
Wunschen replied Leuthaut Adler, still shaking the strangers hand as a white smile shone through his grimy face.
A big smile spread across his exhausted face, Private Wilson dropped down into the trench. He was warmly greeted by his comrades congratulating him on his safe return.
Well done old boy, you just shook hands with death! exclaimed one.
Private Wilson looked at the young soldier. He was another Private that had only arrived a few days ago to join them here on the front line.
Theyre just the same as us really he muttered.
Suddenly the Captain broke through.
What the hell was that? he demanded.
Private Wilson smiled. We have a truce Sir he said happily.
A truce? Who gave you orders for that?
Private Wilsons smile disappeared.
No one, Sir he said quietly. Silence fell in the trench.
The Captain glared at him. Everyone collectively held their breath.
What were the terms?
None Sir. Just that its Christmas
The Captains mouth froze. He looked up at the sky; the sun was almost up now. The clouds were tinged beautiful hues of pink, orange and purple. Fresh flakes of snow began to drift down. So it is he whispered to himself. The Captain smiled and looked back at the Private.
Carry on soldier he said and saluted.
Private Wilson and the other men smiled, saluted and clicked their heels together.
SIR! they barked as one voice.
They all started relaxing and lighting cigarettes when from across no-mans land they heard
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh
As the song was picked up again by the voices that floated across no-mans land the English soldiers emerged from their trenches and began walking towards the midway point between the two sides.
As they walked, though they werent even sure why they were walking towards the enemy even in this spontaneous truce time, a soldier struck up
Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
Soon the voice of every soldier could be heard ringing through the frozen land. The Germans saw them coming and went out to greet them.
A fire was started, and every available item taken for seating. Both sides willingly shared their food and gifts from home amongst each other. They were seeing for the first time since the beginning of the war that the enemy was a lot more than a Kraut or Tommy; they were all men fighting for what they believed in.
Private Millings stood up and tapped Private Wilsons shoulder. He nodded back towards the English trenches.
I think there are some cigarettes in my fox hole. Will you come with me? he said.
Private Wilson smiled at the thought and stood up to go with him, brushing the snow and dirt from his trousers. The two men stuck their hands in their pockets as the snow swirled around them on their way across no-mans land.
When they got there Private Millings jumped down first and made his way, not towards his fox hole but towards the machine gunners post. Confused, Private Wilson followed him. When Private Millings sat in front of the automated weapon Private Wilson pushed him saying
What the hell are you at?
Private Millings glared at him Dont you see? This is the perfect opportunity. Those stupid Krauts wont know what hit them
Private Wilson stared at him a moment, in shock and revulsion. Then he punched Private Millings across the face so hard his head snapped to the side.
Private Millings put his hand to his mouth and then looked at it. There was blood on his fingers.
Youre disgusting spat Private Wilson and with that he jumped back up out of the trench and strode angrily back to the others. When he got there he didnt tell them what had happened. Private Millings didnt rejoin them.
As the sun set and the moon rose the soldiers all huddled closer to the fire, singing carols.
As the last one came to a close soldiers began to slowly drift away back to their trenches, to sleep. Tomorrow the war would continue.
Private Wilson sat with his arms wrapped around him, staring into the fire.
fightnien fur? said a voice.
Private Wilson looked up. It was a German soldier, looking at him sincerely.
I guess for my king and country
That is gut
but vat are YOU fightnien fur? the man struggled to say.
Private Wilson had to think about it.
So my daughter can grow up, safe and happy. And so no one else will have to get hurt
The German nodded. He had understood half of what Private Wilson had said.
It is like
Private Wilson smiled. Yes, I suppose it is.
The German smiled back then looked up at the sky. He turned and said something to the German soldiers that were still sitting there. They nodded and slowly got up and returned to their trenches. The last of the English soldiers got up too.
Private Wilson paused and looked back at the German. He was saluting him. Private Wilson smiled and gave him the devil may care salute in return. With that both men performed an about turn and returned to their respective sides.
When Leuthaut Adler jumped down into his trench he sat down next to one of his men. He stared across the no-mans land at the English trenches.
I was thinking
maybe heaven isnt beyond the clouds
maybe its across the field.
The soldier frowned at him Sir?
Leuthaut Adler shook his head.
Never mind he clapped the young soldier on the back
Carry on soldier.
At the stroke of midnight all men held their breath as one.
But then the perfect Christmas silence was shattered by the rattling of guns and pierced by the orange and red flashes of shells.
Private Wilson sighed, took aim, and fired.
Three days later
Private Wilson slipped down the side of the bombed out German trench. He picked his way through the mess of broken bodies and shells. He reached for a pistol in the mud that looked to be in working order.
Suddenly something caught his eye. He looked to his right and nearly wretched. He recognized the disembodied head lying in the muddy water. It was the face of the German he had made the truce with.
It was frozen in a lifeless mask of fear. Private Wilson gritted his teeth and closed the eyelids so the glazed eyes were no longer staring at the bleak and snowy landscape.
Something wrong Wilson?
Private Wilson jumped. He spun around.
No sir! he exclaimed to the Captain.
Good. Keep moving weve a lot of ground to cover. said the Captain and he kept moving.
Private Wilson saluted then picked up the pistol.
What a sad affair he muttered and continued on.
Based on a true story. Dedicated to the brave soldiers, of both sides, of the First World War.