Historical Fiction Adventure Drama

The Christmas Truce

[Christmas Truce of 1914 (World War I)]

“The thing started last night – a bitter cold night, with white frost – soon after dusk when the Germans started shouting 'Merry Christmas, Englishmen' to us. Of course our fellows shouted back and presently large numbers of both sides had left their trenches, unarmed, and met in the debatable, shot-riddled, no man's land between the lines. Here the agreement – all on their own – came to be made that we should not fire at each other until after midnight tonight. The men were all fraternizing in the middle and swapped cigarettes and lies in the utmost good fellowship. Not a shot was fired all night.”

-- Captain Robert Miles, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, December 26, 1914.

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,

Hirten erst kundgemacht

Durch der Engel Halleluja,

Tönt es laut von fern und nah:

Christ, der Retter ist da!

Christ, der Retter ist da!

Silent night, holy night,

Shepherds quake at the sight.

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;

Christ the Savior is born

Christ the Savior is born”

--Stille Nacht/Silent Night, John Freeman Young, as sung on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914

* * *

“Mon amour immortel, Piet van der Hem,

Ahh, my love. Would you send me, if possible, again, one of those little photographs of me nude on horseback in the woods? It would please me very much. I miss Paris. I suppose all women that run away from their husbands head to Paris. I am an orchid in a sea of buttercups—as my first lover—the headmaster told me. I weave for men a tale of mystery. Who is this Javanese princess? With the joie de vivre? Breasts framed by a bejeweled breastplate—dans un soutien-gorge. Who bares all? An illusion. A mirage. Une culotte gainante et un collant. To one journalist, I say I was born a princess on the island of Java. That dance? The dance of Chandra. Invocations to the moon. To another journalist, I say I was the illicit daughter of a British Officer who snatched up one of the Indian Maharaja’s royal courtesans, secreting her away from the harem in the Royal Palace on false pretenses, stealing her away to foreign lands, at first, against her will.

There is the German Army Captain Alfred Kiepert and the younger Prince Wilhelm, both with ruddy blonde hair and fair skin, tasty as fresh plucked fruits. The French Monk, Father Mortilliac, a happy, portly man with a great beard, who breaks his vows with religious fervor. There is Karl Kroemer, German consul to Amsterdam, who pays me a penance, eyes lowered down, genuflecting, as if I possess the provenance to grant absolution. Ironically, I bid him ‘go in peace.’ There is Capt. Georges Ladoux of the Deuxième Bureau, French military intelligence, who is a nervous and fretful soul with no endurance, who washes his hands earnestly and spits and curses in the bidet before he leaves. He made me promise in the sheets of his room at Hotel Elysée Palace on the Champs Elysées—promise—not to sleep with any other French officers—was it jealousy or distrust that ruled over him? Then there is the Russian Captain, Vadim de Massloff, oh Vadim, mon trésor, just a boy, half my age—but what a lover—and he is thoroughly mine, would die for it—if only the two of us could be married, what ecstasy serait à moi! 

This war has left all of my lovers in a frenzy, each time we meet we fear it may be the last before we bridge eternity. I have crisscrossed the continent from one warring country to the next, such that the customs agents no doubt fancy me a spy.

All these men are not so different after all. Venal. Frantic. Overeager. Disloyal. Unbelieving.   They all want the same, the same as me, to believe for a moment that love and desire can triumph over that evil chord in all of us that rots and devours and dies—to touch or grasp—to die—and wake to—to just breathe one breath in the rays—of the transcendent. To know that the gold dust that slips through your fingers and scatters in the wind is no mirage, but rather, the real blastings of a real quarry on a real Elysisan mountain of endless gold peaks.  

Oh Piet, do send me those photographs, I so miss Paris. I fear this war will eat me alive, travelling so, devoured by every side of Europe, and for what? Is this really all about lines on maps and who claims this limb or that limb or that haunch or the left breast or the navel or the right thigh? By the time these wolves pick the carcass of the Old World clean, I will die of exhaustion—ripped asunder by these wolves—or will be taken before the firing squad for some gossip. Oh God, please let this stupid war end before Christmas!

--Mata Hari, Enchantress of the Rising Sun (Aug. 20, 1914)”



Please send some tamarind (seeds being removed) and good cocoanut oil by parcel post. There is a vegetable shortage. Without help, I cannot keep my diet.

War is waged in a country that is as far as Rangoon is away from Madras. It has only been three months since I arrived, and the professors here have lost their interest in mathematics owing to the present war. All argue for and against. Littleton has enlisted. The quad at Trinity has become a war hospital.

They fly in aeroplanes at great heights, bomb the cities and ruin them. As soon as enemy planes are sighted in the sky, the planes resting on the ground take off and fly at great speeds and dash against them resulting in destruction and death.

I came here under auspicious signs, traveling in taxi-cab number 1729. Can you believe it! It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways! I am quite despondent, even though I stand engrossed in everything I’d ever dreamed of doing.

My theorems must be true, because if they are not true, I could never have had the imagination to invent them. But in a world bent on its own destruction, I wonder if there will be any interest in my abstract discoveries. Discoveries of abundance, of infinite abundance.

I will try to explain to you my idea of fractals. Imagine you want to measure the coast of Britain. Measure by the rod and you will get one result, but then measure by the ruler, and the coastline has grown. Measure by the inch and then by a pinpoint and then smaller and smaller, and at last with each smaller measure, the coastline grows, and the result approaches infinity. Every coastline, every border, of every land, is infinite when measured closely enough. And yet, we fight to the death and die over a few meters of an infinite bounty. 

-- Srinivasa Ramanujan (Aug. 26, 1914)”



So much for this war being sorted by Christmas. It is Christmas Eve. A Christmas Eve like no other. We’ve had a cold North wind that has come through the front. A steady, proper snowfall of big fluffy white flakes began at sundown. At about seven, with the snow accumulating and covering the battlefield, the firing stopped. I came out of the trenches to take a look.

I had been reading a paper and the mail was being dished out. When I walked out to see what the silence was all about, the Germans shouted back “no shooting” and more and more men came out and sat on the parapets and the Germans did the same. It was close enough we could carry on and most of them spoke English and broken English. I got on top of the trench and talked German and asked them to sing a German Volkslied, which they did, then our men sang quite well and each side clapped and cheered the other.

They brought us Schnapps and we traded beer and cigarettes and cigars. Paul and I crossed over “no man’s land” and spoke to the German officer in command. We agreed to let one another bury our dead and not to have any shooting before Boxing Day. We talked together, 10 or more Germans gathered round. I was almost in their lines within a yard or so. We saluted each other. Then we wished one another goodnight and a good night’s rest, and a happy Xmas and parted with a salute. I got back to the trench. The Germans sang Die Wacht Am Rhein it sounded well. Then our men sang quite well Christians Awake, it sounded so well.

Then they began to sing Stille Nacht, Silent Night in German, and we echoed back each verse in English. And the night rang with the sound of angels who had put down their guns. It was a curious scene, a lovely moonlit night, and the battlefield was calm and white. There was such an absolute quite, except for the small voices of those up smoking cigars and drinking and playing cards.

The German Officer came over and asked, “We vill do ze same on New Year's, den, shall ve?" And I said, “Yes, yes,” And he genuflected and said, “God villing, if both vill still be here und alive."

If one gets through this show it will be an Xmas time to live in one’s memory. The German who sang first had a really fine voice.

--Warren “Warnie” Lewis (Dec. 24, 1914)”


“Dear Vadim (mon amour),

It is Christmas Eve and all I can think of is you and how I long to be back with you again—oh please, find a way to get away to Paris! Can you?

I have been tossed around for what seems like forever. Enough for one lifetime. I suppose this is why I live in hotels and strangers’ rooms, and scarcely have ever called anyplace home. Leeuwarden. Good Lord, it even sounds like a prison. I barely remember my childhood home—when have I last seen it? As you know, my father went bankrupt and left us when I was but a girl. My father was a charlatan. He made a fortune on the stock market. Then claimed to be a Baron and swindled his way along until his exaggerations and stories left him desolate—and he fled the law—leaving us without a goodbye. My mother died when I was but 15. Living in the cold clutches of the North Sea at the lid of Europe was an unforgiving place for a young girl, but I soon learned the hard way that men can give life or take it away. John MacLeod, my first husband, rescued me—or rather, I answered his classified advertisement for a wife—he was a real Baron! 

Although, he was about 35 when I was 18 and though a Dutch Officer, en route to the Dutch East Indies, I learned that he had an appetite for more than me. He was a syphilitic who gave me vd—and my poor boy died from the mercury he took to treat it. And his officers had designs on me as well and waited to find me alone—and in my naughtier times, angry with John, I gave some of them encouragement.

One Saturday afternoon he went completely wild with tropical fever and attacked me with a bread knife, and I was only saved by falling over a chair, which gave him a startle and enough time for my escape.

Don’t think I am bad at heart, my love. Despite what they say about me, I have never been untrue. I am a dreamer. And I have truly been carried away with dreams that were real to me—like ghostly apparitions that fade as fast as they’ve materialized. But only with you, mon amour, have I finally found true, pure love.

I have received a strange post from Sir Basil Thomson, assistant commissioner at New Scotland Yard, suspecting me of espionage! Can you imagine. I fear I am in error with Captain Georges Ladoux. Somehow I am fought over, like the Old World itself, and pulled by all these forces.

That is the problem with men in our time. Give them a home, they are after a whole estate. Give them an estate, they set sights on a summer house. Then the governorship of a county, then a country, than a continent, then, if it were possible, the whole world. But you are not one of those are you Vadim?—no, you are a kindred spirit. Don’t get me wrong, my dear, us ma cheries enjoy tasting from different courses. But we long to find all the variety of life and its vicissitudes in one adventurous heart, and to give over all to its exploration--to know all the smallest parts. 

I suppose if there were women generals, there would be no advancing lines or defended fronts but only gates and walls and an infinity of battlements and parapets. Would if I could wall you off from the whole world, all for myself, in such a pleasure castle.

Ton amant toujours,

--Mata Hari (Dec 24, 1914)”

* * *


It is Christmas morning and I am missing you.

It had been two months in the trenches, with the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight. I’ve scarcely gone through a single night thinking it would not be my last.

In my trenches and in those of the enemy opposite to us were only nice big fires blazing and occasional songs and conversation. This morning at the Reveille (when we awoke) the Germans sent out parties to bury their dead. Our men went out to help, and then we all on both sides met in the middle, and in groups began to talk and exchange gifts of tobacco, etc. All this morning we have been fraternising, singing songs.

The whole thing is extraordinary. The men were all so natural and friendly. Several photos were taken, a group of German officers, a German officer and myself, and a group of British and German soldiers. The Germans are Saxons, a good looking lot, only wishing for peace in a manly way, and they seem in no way at their last gasp. I was astonished at the easy way in which our men and theirs got on with each other.

As the snow sank, we started a game of football with one another. We made a goal of our dress caps and they did the same. With no referee, we all policed each other, and the match started with a crowd drawn all about. With all the dead cleared out, we played in the middle of the battlefield, between the trenches, in “no man’s land.”

The Germans scored the first goal and we cheered with them in great enthusiasm. Then the snow began to fall again and a slushy mud stoppered the play and led to all manner of falls and false kicks. Everyone was in an uproar of laughter all morning. We scored the next two goals, and the Germans finished off the game with the final goal sometime later. While we played the onlookers cheered both sides equally as if no one cared who won—the fact alone we could play together was victory enough for any of us.

Well must finish now so as to get this off to-day. Have just finished dinner. Pork chop. Plum pudding. Mince pies. Ginger, and bottle of Wine and a cigar with our enemies (friends), and have drunk to all at home and especially to you my dear little brother. Must go outside now to supervise the meetings of the men and the Germans.

Will try and write more in a day or two. Keep this letter carefully and send copies to all.

I don’t know how long this war will go on, or if we will ever see another moment of peace, but no doubt about it, there is a ‘no man’s land’ or a ‘great divide’ strung between us in which we all want for nothing but peace, singing the same songs, giving the same tidings, feeling the same fears, and enjoying the same sport. 

I leave you with good tidings of the night the angels sang and the Christmas morning the enemies played a game of football and laughed together.

I pray I find my way back home to you alive and well. Give everyone my love.

--Warren “Warnie” Lewis (Dec. 25, 1914)


August 20, 2023 23:57

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Rebecca Miles
06:41 Aug 27, 2023

What a fascinating polyphonic work. The epistolary format worked really to your advantage; you could tell such a range of personal accounts, revealing how the war was experienced differently by very different people. But the longing for the comforts of what is known shines through them all: the tamarind from home; the unexpected shared experience of singing silent night/ Heilige Nacht ( I live in Germany and love all their carols but the haunting lift of this one is exquisite). All of your letter writers are well nuanced. I particularly enjo...


Jonathan Page
14:47 Aug 27, 2023

Thank you, Rebecca!


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Jonathan Page
16:25 Aug 23, 2023



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