I Had a Haircut Yesterday
Illustration by Geralden Morre
Lionheart Way, Bursledon
25 December 1914
To my wife, Philippa,
Happy Christmas! I hope you and our little boy Augustus are the best of health and safety in this disastrous time of war. Do not forget to give him his favorite Christmas chocolate drink.
I write this letter to you today, Friday, the 25th of December, 1914 to wish you a happy Christmas from the Western Front.
What I am about to tell you is an otherwise impossible event but, my beloved, but I tell this with all honesty as God is my witness.
It all started yesterday, Christmas eve. It was about 7 or 8 in the evening and I was on my watch at the trench. It was cold and damp. There was sheer ice but it wasn’t snowing very hard. It was frosty and everything was ice white—the trees, the trench, even our dead soldiers were unnoticeable. It was also perceptibly very eerie and silent, as there were no gunfights by evening, no sound of cannonballs unleashed.
You see, love, it was almost as if there was no war.
Suddenly, I saw an orange light glowing from the German trench, but I could not quite decipher what it was. I was going to inform the troop about the light, thinking it was a pulverized firework targeted to us. I waited a little longer and I was wrong. Moonlight shone a little while after and I saw that it was a wee little Christmas tree, which the Germans decorated with silver garlands and topped with candles in glasses.
After sipping a cup or two of warm chocolate, we started to hear the German troops singing to a familiar Christmas song. The cold air made it possible for us to hear what they were singing — Silent Night in German. Slowly, the rest of the lads were humming and singing along in English. We applauded them by clapping our hands, and we thought of a way to hit back by singing The First Noel, which the Germans applauded as well. They retaliated by singing back O Tannenbaum, which, I bet, is the German translation of Oh, Christmas Tree. One by one, we got up from the trench while the Germans were singing. At first, I can see the fear and anger in their eyes, but as we rose up without weapons, they slowly walked towards the middle of No Man’s Land. The dawn was almost breaking when we sang O Come All Ye Faithful, which the Germans complemented with Adeste Fideles. Oh, love, it was an unlikely sight — German versus British troops singing with one another instead of bloodshed and warfare — but it felt good to feel the spirit of Christmas in the middle of No Man’s Land.
By Christmas morning, I was already befriending German lads, their names were Heinrich and Fredrich, twins forced to war. They told stories about their childhood in a province south of Berlin, Germany and told that they had to leave their ill mother because they were forced to join the war. They were both 23 and were very jolly lads, although the distress of war is wearing their smiles out. I can see their sad smiles and their yearning to go back home, just as much as what I am feeling right now.
Along with us were other German lads, who played cards with us. We also exchanged a lot of personal items. Heinrich exchanged his father’s old dice and a goblet, which I now keep in my quarters, with my deck of cards and some cigarettes. By 10 in the morning, we played football versus the Germans. To no fortune, the Germans won with a score of 3 points, versus us, with only 2 points.
We were laughing and cheering like little boys in the summer.
By lunchtime, we were drinking beer and ale and whiskey. Others were burying their dead and fixing their trenches, all along while singing to Christmas songs. Afternoon came and I had to bid farewell to those excellent German friends.
We were starting to hear shots being fired over at nearby trenches.
It’s war, again.
You see, Pippa, it was a truce. We made a truce with the Germans. It was a truce, a ceasefire without papers, without formalities. It was a truce formed out of humility. I was certain that in that moment, humanity was there — there were no Germans or British or the Central Force or war.
There was no war.
And somehow, love, I was hopeful that there would be peace from that day on. In that moment, the were no corporals, or admirals, or generals, or front men, or colonels or foes. I shall never forget the friendship I made with Heinrich and Fredrich and the jokes we shared with the German troops, the way they won the football match, the songs we sang and the spirit we shared. Christmas is a time of giving, of love, and the most important of all, of peace.
I look forward to the day I meet Heinrich and Fredrich, alive and well. I look forward to the day when I will see our grandchildren, and I hope to tell them this story. I look forward to the day when the world will stop the violence and the ammunitions and the pride — the pride that continues to destroy us all.
I look forward to the day that I am going to die a natural death. Not here, not bloodstained and blasted.
I miss you already, my love. How has Christmas over at household been? Send a reply soon.
How is Augustus? How is mum Amelie and aunt Faustina? Send my regards to them as I wish them a very merry Christmas as well.
With all my love,
P.S. I had my hair cut today by a German soldier, Franz. I look best. I wish I could send you a photograph, but a film is very costly.