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John McCutcheon

"Christmas in the Trenches"
From the album
"Water From Another Time"

  Please read above note and the poem first, then watch the video below.

My name is Francis Tolliver; 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 songs were 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 in harmony.
The cannons rested silent; the gas clouds rolled no more,
As Christmas brought 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 comin' towards us," the frontline sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag like the 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 we 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, 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 began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that beat 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 forever more.

O my name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell;
Each Christmas come since World War One 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.

John McCutcheon performing "Christmas in the Trenches", Nov 16, 2008:

Let's work for peace.

© John McCutcheon
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