Christmas in the Trenches

December 18th, 2005 - by admin

John McCutcheon – 2005-12-18 00:57:02

My name is Francis Toliver, I come from Liverpool.

Two years ago, the war was waiting for me after school.

To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany, to here,

I fought for King and country I love dear.

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung.

The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.

Our families back in England were toasting us that day:

Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground

When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.

Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear

As one young German voice sang out so clear.

“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me.

Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony.

The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more,

As Christmas gave us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent,

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen struck up some lads from Kent.

The next they sang was Stille Nacht, “‘Tis Silent Night, says I.

And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.

“There’s someone coming towards us!” the front-line sentry cried.

All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.

His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright

As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land.

With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.

We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well

And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ’em hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home.

These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.

Young Sanders played his squeeze-box and they had a violin,

This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.

With sad farewells, we each prepared to settle back to war.

But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night:

“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.

The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.

For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war

Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.

My name is Francis Toliver, in Liverpool I dwell.

Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well:

That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame

And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

Words & Music by John McCutcheon.
copyright 1984 by John McCutcheon / Appalsong