Sergeant Tommy Baker sat in his trench, cold and alone and hungry. And they said it'd be over by Christmas! He thought despondently to himself. Ha. Well, good riddance to all of top brass. It was already Christmas Eve, and there was no sign of the war ending.
Tommy peeked over the trench at the familiar German helmets with their spikes on top, bobbing up and down the trenches. It had always been something of a joke to see them walk around. Tommy had sometimes taken pot shots at the soldiers just for the fun of it. He'd never really hit anyone, anyway. That was what war in the trenches was like – sitting there doing nothing, waiting to get shelled out of the trench. A lonely life.
Sometimes he asked himself why he was fighting this war. Nothing came back to him except something like "I've got to do my duty." What duty? There wasn't anything worth fighting for. Not his country, mainly because they were the ones that got him messed up in the first place. Not his family, seeing as he had none.
"Merry Christmas eve, Tommy!" someone yelled at him from another trench. Tommy raised his rifle in acknowledgement. Then he remembered whenever he had done that, the Germans would shoot at him. He quickly withdrew his rifle. But they weren't firing at him.
Someone slid down next to him and gave a long sigh. Tommy turned around and saw that it was his pal, Corporal Charlie Richardson. Charlie had been in the army for a long time, and Tommy looked up to him.
"It's awfully cold," the younger soldier complained. Charlie looked at him sternly. "When you've been in the army for as long as I have, son," he began.
"Here we go again," Tommy moaned, but was secretly pleased. He enjoyed Charlie's stories, long winded as they were.
"You'll be glad for the cold!" Charlie admonished. "If it wasn't for the cold there'd be mud up to our knees. Then we'd go sloshing around the trenches, being great targets for the Germans."
"Always look on the bright side, don't you, Charlie?" Tommy rolled his eyes.
"You have to, son. It could be worse. They could be shooting at us, sending us little lead presents from their rifles. One day, you'll have a bullet in the brain. Although I doubt that, seeing as your brain's smaller than a walnut and all…"
Something startled the two soldiers and Tommy instinctively jumped up, squinting at the German lines. "Get down, lad!" Charlie hissed, yanking the younger soldier down. "Small or not, your brain's gonna have a bullet in it if you go on like that!"
a band," Tommy said, oblivious to Charlie's nagging. "It's a
brass band, are they mad? They're gonna get a shell right on top of
'em, that's what they're gonna get."
"Maybe they're goin'a attack us with trombones," Charlie chuckled.
"Naw, they're playing Silent Night."
"Bloomin' stupid of 'em."
"It's beautiful." Tommy could feel his eyes filling up with tears and he blinked them to get rid of them. They froze halfway down his cheeks.
There was a whine that was as loud as the music, coming from their side. The two soldiers ducked, not exactly sure where it would land. The whine grew louder and louder until it drowned out the music. The band had stopped playing now, at any rate, and were scattering. Crash! The shell came down right on top of where the Germans had been just now.
"What did they do that for?" Tommy was indignant. "It was lovely!"
"That's Generals for you," Charlie shrugged. "To be honest with you, lad, I doubt they know it's Christmas. They probably can't even spell the blasted word."
Tommy felt it safe enough to peek over the top of the trench again. "Cor, Charlie, stone the crows!" The young Sergeant gaped. "Have a look at that!"
Charlie looked over the trench and was speechless. The Germans had lighted a hundred or so candles and placed them on the fir trees that had been erected. The British had tried to shoot them down at first, but the Germans just kept replacing them so they had stopped.
"That's quite a sight," Tommy said. The air was so still he could hear the Germans talking. From what he remembered of his German they were wishing each other Merry Christmas and talking about their homes.
Tentatively, Tommy yelled, "Merry Christmas, Fritz!" at the men. The conversation stopped for a while, and Charlie ducked. "What'cha do that for, lad?" he demanded. "They know where we are now!"
However, the Germans didn't shoot at them. Instead one of them yelled, "Merry Christmas, Tommy!"
Tommy wondered how they knew his name, then remembered that they called all the British Tommy.
"My name's Thomas!" the young man yelled back.
"Come over!" The German cried. "We won't shoot – you won't shoot. We meet and shake hands and celebrate Christmas."
Tommy scrambled to his feet. Charlie cautioned him. "It could be a trick," he said stubbornly. "It could be a trick."
Tommy ignored the soldier and clambered up. "If they shoot me, you can shoot 'em all you want," he told Charlie. Slowly, Tommy made his way across no man's land. A soldier got out from the trenches and went to meet him. About halfway across, the two men met and saluted.
"Pleased to meet you, Fritz," Tommy grinned, shaking the German's hand. A loud cheer broke out on both sides, despite the freezing cold and hunger that many were feeling.
The Germans began singing Silent Night again, while the two men in the middle had a long and friendly conversation. When Tommy came back he slid into the trench. "Chap's agreed to have a forty eight hour truce," he told the Corporal happily. Charlie's expression turned from one of scepticism to one of incredulousness. "Never seen anything like it," he murmured. "Never. Generals'll be furious, young Tommy, mark my words."
"Generals don't know nothing," Tommy retorted. "They're having enough fun as it is. Probably roasting geese and eating pudding. What do they care?"
Charlie cautioned, "Remember, after Christmas we'll have to go back to fighting."
Tommy dropped his head. "How can we shoot them?" he protested. "They're good men. They're the same as us! Fighting this stupid war for nothing. I can tell you no one's going to feel like going back to war after this." He was right.
The carol had ended and there was a long silence. Then someone yelled, "Can't you sing 'God save the King'?"
The Germans called back, "We will sing it for you, Tommy!" and at once there was the rather strange noise of German soldiers singing the British national anthem.
As Christmas Eve turned into Christmas morning the singing began to fade. Tommy peered over the trench and saw, to his immense surprise, a group of Germans kicking around a football.
"I used to be a good footballer," he told Charlie.
Charlie scoffed, "With legs like yours?"
"I did!" Tommy cried indignantly. Charlie held up his hands in mock surrender and called to the Germans. "Tommy here reckons he can teach you chaps a thing or two in football!"
The Germans roared with laughter. "We're the best footballers there are!" they retorted.
Other British troops heard them and were soon screaming, "Rubbish!" Someone yelled for a game of football, eleven a side. To Charlie's surprise, Tommy was picked to be one of them.
Someone found a whistle and blew it. "START!" A German officer, acting as referee, yelled. And the match was under way.
For one hour, there was no war. Tommy forgot all about it. He just concentrated on the ball between his feet, dribbling it and passing it around. Someone tackled him as he was nearing the goal and the ball was passed to a German officer near the British side, who sent the ball straight between the two "goalposts" – two rifles stuck in the ground.
As the game wore on, the Germans seemed to be tiring. Tommy reckoned they thought one zero would be good enough. But not for Tommy. With a start he realised he had the ball and that his enemy were charging him. Not for long. Tommy waited until the man had dived before simply kicking the ball over him and headed for the goal. Nothing could stop him now. The goalkeeper dived too early and Tommy kicked the ball straight between the posts as the whistle sounded for full time.
The British yelled until their throats hurt and Tommy had never felt so happy. He was carried one round by the happy crowd before he was allowed to get down again. The German who had tackled him came up and held out his hand.
"Good game, Tommy," he said, grinning ruefully.
"Good game, Fritz," Tommy grinned back.
"My name Hans," The German shook his head. "Not Fritz."
"My name Tommy," Tommy shot back, "Not Tommy." The German was confused for a moment, but then he grinned again and shook Tommy's hand firmly. Then his face went blank and distant. "Today shoot football," he said bleakly. "Tomorrow shoot guns."
Tommy felt the euphoria running away from him. "Yeah," he said sadly.
Hans let go of his hand and turned to go, marching back to his trench. Tommy felt sad to see his new friend go. "Hans!" he yelled at the retreating figure.
Hans stopped and turned around, looking at Tommy questioningly.
"Good luck," Tommy said. "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May God protect you and bring you home safe." The words were not his, but the King's himself. They had been printed on a card given to the soldiers.
"You too, Tommy," the German gave a brief nod. "You too."