Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Sunday ~ WW1 Remembered...






A Christmas Story


December, 1916... somewhere on the Western Front


He sat huddled against the biting chill of a cold wind that whistled and moaned its way along the trench. Dan was so cold he couldn't feel his feet, or his fingers, and how he longed for the warmth and the crackle of a wood fire and the comforting smell of his mother's spiced gingerbread cake. Lost in deep thought, Dan felt the icy, cold air of the Western Front slip away and for a moment he was back in his mother's kitchen and he could hear her voice gently scold him for bringing in mud from outside.

"How many times, Dan, take your boots off by the door, and stop tramping in muck from the field...and close the door, it's bitter out there.."

Dan smiled to himself and rubbed his mittened hands together, any thought of home brought him comfort. He looked up at the midnight blue sky, so many stars twinkled above him, he felt as if he could see far into the heavens. He knew that the same night sky flickered down on the fields of home but, right now, the farm seemed so very far away. He remembered previous Christmas times, walking home from church with the sound of carols ringing in the air. Dan doubted he would ever want to go to church again, not after what he had seen in recent months, he scarce believed in God any more.

"Man's inhumanity to man, well, that didn't bear thinking about, did it?"

Holding the same stooped position in the trench for hours on end didn't half play havoc with his back and every bit of him ached so that the thought of a long hot soak in warm water was something he dreamed about. He stretched and rolled his cramped neck muscles,   “Come on, Dan, lad", he said to himself, " A warm bath, that's not going to happen any time soon, ...so stop daydreaming!”

Dan could hear the muffles and groans of the other men, some like him, sat hunched in their overcoats, like hulking shadows, others were pressed along the edges of the duckboards trying to grab a few minutes sleep and merciful oblivion, but sleep didn't last long, not in this cold. They were so close to the enemy lines that an issue had gone round that no braziers were to be lit which meant that everyone was wearing so many layers of clothing that sometimes it was hard to move. Dan laughed to himself when he thought of how he would play cricket for the Sunday sports team in little more than white trousers and a shirt. Would this war never end, he wanted to go home so badly he had to pinch himself hard to stop the tears from flowing. 

Dan sensed a lightening of the air around him and knew that dawn was breaking. Christmas Day, he thought with a wry smile. He wondered if Santa would bring anything. He laughed out loud, there had been promise of an extra rum ration, but well, you never knew these days, if promises would be kept. He felt down into his kit bag and brought out a crumpled package he'd been saving for a few days. With icy fingers, quite numb now with cold, Dan opened the parcel and felt the softness of wool and smelled the spice of gingerbread. It was a scarf, soft and warm and oh, so long that Dan could wrap it several times around his head and neck. It smelled of wood smoke, the scent of home and he pictured his mother, knitting needles flying as she sat after another long day on the farm. Wrapped in greased paper was a gingerbread cake, it was icy cold to touch, but the warmth of the spices hit his senses as soon as he crumbled a corner of it into his mouth. He wouldn't eat too much now, he would share the rest with his mate, Bob, who didn't have a mother to make him a cake for Christmas.

Dan heard the first stirring of life in the trench, the moans and murmurs changed to coughs and snuffles as his companions started to make ready for a new day. And then, ever so gently, Dan heard the plaintive notes of a harmonica and the first few notes of Silent Night echoed gently along the line of the trench.

"Happy Christmas, mum", Dan whispered, and his voice echoed across the miles to his mother, who, just starting her day on the farm, looked up into the dawn streaked sky and whispered softly, "Happy Christmas, son".


©Jo Barton, 2016


Listen to a Imperial War Museum Podcast here about the winter of 1916-1917





Christmas Dinner on the Western Front
December 
1916


© IWM (Q 1630)
Jaffa and I wish you all a Blessed and Peaceful Christmas





4 comments:

  1. Blessings to you too Josie and thank you for posting. xx

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    1. And also to you too Susan. Have a lovely Christmas xx

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  2. Thanks for this poignant reminder. Happy Christmas . We are lucky

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    1. Thanks Ros , we are so lucky ! I hope you have a very Happy Christmas too and happy writing in 2017 xx

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Thanks for taking the time to comment - Jaffa and I appreciate your interest.