Today we have an excerpt from a work in progress by Writers Forum member Michael Brian Brussin titled For King and Kaiser, and novel set in the trenches of World War 1. This piece recounts a miraculous event that actually occurred in those trenches in 1914. Michael read this excerpt at the December Read Around in 2016, and it is a perfect Christmas Eve story.
Excerpt from For King and Kaiser
By Michael Brian Brussin
Evening came and it began to snow.
“All right—just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean you can take it easy; that’s just what jerry wants, so stay alert,” Sergeant Wade said to Albert and Jim and the men standing with them.
“We’re on top of things, sergeant, don’t worry,” Albert assured the cautious Sergeant Wade.
“I just wish it wasn’t so perishin’ cold,” Jim said, clapping his gloved hands together.
“Stop your moaning, Jim, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve got snow; what more do you want?” Albert teased the young cockney.
“Yeah, Christmas,” Jim sighed. “Ya know, it feels like Christmas, even aht ‘ere.”
“It does at that, even in this hellish wasteland,” one of the other soldiers remarked, watching the snowflakes drift onto the parapet and beyond.
It was nine o’clock in the evening and the snow continued to fall. Oil lamps lit English and German trenches, and drum fires burned that had the men taking turns to warm their hands over the flames.
Albert sat by himself with a mug of tea thinking of home. Jim Broadbent sat with another private where they talked about their families and what they would be doing at that moment if they were home. Sergeant Arthur Wade walked up and down in a casual gait, lost in his own thoughts; and Captain Duncan made an appearance, checking on his men and making sure the parapet was lined with watchful sentries.
“Hey, what’s that? What’s jerry doing?” one of the sentries said, peering cautiously at the German parapet.
“What is that?” another sentry questioned.
Sergeant Wade jumped onto the fire step and peered over.
The Germans had acquired Christmas lanterns and placed lit candles inside and put them along the top of the parapet.
The silence was then broken by distant singing.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht…
The entire carol of Silent Night grew louder and was sung in a beautiful voice.
The English trench was captivated and touched by the singing of this hallowed Christmas carol, and when the song was finished the English clapped and cheered.
“C’mon, lads, let’s give ‘em one back,” Jim Broadbent said. “What’ve we got?”
“How about O Come, All Ye Faithful?” Albert suggested.
Sergeant Wade came over to the men and led them in a song like a choir master.
At the end of O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans applauded and cheered, and they then entertained with O Tannenbaum.
Christmas Eve ended with an exchange of more songs and a few shouts across the parapets.
“Happy Christmas, tommy!” a voice called from the German trench.
“Frohe Weihnachten, jerry!” Albert responded on behalf of the British.
The men in the trenches woke to an extraordinary sight—two robins perched on the wire in No Man’s Land. One of the red-breasted birds was settled near the German trench, and the other close to the British.
It had stopped snowing, but a soft covering lay on the ground. The sky was a clear blue and a biting yet refreshing cold filtered in the Christmas Day air.
There had been no ‘morning hate’ this day. No shots were fired; both sides honored Christmas with indications of peace. Neither side, however, took a chance looking at his enemy’s trench without the use of a periscope, aware of the ever-ready sniper.
The quiet and stillness remained, then the British sentries picked up some German movement.
“What’s going on over there? Sergeant! Come quick!” one of the sentries called. There was no response. “Jim, go and fetch the sarge, quick,” the sentry directed Private Broadbent.
“What’s happening out there?” Albert asked, hearing the commotion.
“Jerry’s moving about; we can see them. Rifles ready!” the sentry responded; then clicks sounded along the wall with rifles aimed and ready to fire.
Sergeant Wade rushed out of the dugout and looked through a periscope.
“Good God, will you look at that!” the sergeant exclaimed.
“What is it, sergeant?” the men wanted to know, still unwilling to look without the safety of a periscope.
“They’re holding up signs…Happy Christmas, and…Drink with us.”
“What’s happening here?” Captain Duncan asked, appearing on the scene.
“Look! They’re coming over the top!” another sentry called. “They’ve got their arms up!”
Sergeant Wade peered over the parapet without the use of a periscope, as did several of the other men.
“I asked what’s happening here,” Captain Duncan repeated.
“It’s jerry, sir,” Sergeant Wade answered. “They’re all out in No Man’s Land. I don’t think they’re armed.”
“Happy Christmas, tommy! Komm—have a drink with us!” a voice echoed in broken English.
“Let’s go, sarge! How about it?” the men elicited, with some of them already starting up the ladders.
“Stand where you are!” Captain Duncan ordered, stopping the men in their tracks. “There will be no fraternizing with the enemy. Now take up your positions!”
“Come on, captain, sir; it’s Christmas, peace an’ friendship an’ all that,” Jim Broadbent brazenly urged.
“What about a drink, tommy!” another voice rang out from No Man’s Land.
“Komm! We will meet you!” still another man called.
“What do you say, captain?” Sergeant Wade asked. “It is Christmas.”
Captain Duncan looked over the parapet and was amazed at what he saw. Scores of German infantrymen stood about in No Man’s Land, smoking and talking, and some were holding mugs of beer, having a jolly time.
Captain Duncan stepped down and looked at Sergeant Wade, then he turned to the men.
“All right…over you go!”
The men eagerly climbed up the ladders, but then they walked cautiously toward their enemy.
The Germans approached the British, and when the men of the opposing nations met in the middle of No Man’s Land, they shook hands and exchanged Christmas greetings.