Music Monday – Christmas in the Trenches

It is good that war is so terrible, lest we become too fond of it.
~~ General Robert E. Lee ~~

Time for another Music Monday and since this is the holiday season this latest installment will be all about… what else?  Christmas!

Even in the depths of bitter war Christmas can bring its indelible influence and for a short time, peace on earth, goodwill toward men can rise above the carnage.  Probably no better example is the legendary Christmas Truce of 1914.  It was a brief pause in a violent and desperate fight between British and German soldiers on the Western Front during what was called by earlier generations the Great War…  more commonly known today as World War One.

This true event made world-wide news and was later memorialized in a ballad as seen through the eyes of a fictional British officer Francis Tolliver.  The song was written by American folk singer and story-teller John McCutcheon.  My favorite version is performed by the Scottish-Canadian tenor John McDermott.

There’s no video here, just the music but with lyrics you can follow along with below:

Use your mind’s eye and enjoy this version of Christmas in the Trenches

Oh 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, Germany to here

I have fought for King and country I love dear.

Twas Christmas in the trenches and the frost so bitter hung

The frozen fields of France where 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 lying 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 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 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 Nach tis Silent Night says I

And in two tongues one song filled up that sky

There’s someone coming 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 plane so bright

As he bravely trudged unarmed into the night.

Then one by one on either side, walked in to no mans 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 them hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes and photographs from home

These sons and fathers far away from families of their own

Tom Sanders played the 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 wonderous night

Whose family have I fixed within my sights.

Twas Christmas in the trenches and 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 comes 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!

2 thoughts on “Music Monday – Christmas in the Trenches

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