Thursday, 11 November 2010

Friday Flash - Lest We Forget

This piece has been taken down as it is out for submission!

32 comments:

Jen Brubacher said...

You've captured this moment really well, Icy. I teared up. I hate war. Not sure what else to say on it.

I'll go read your post from last year.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I actually got upset writing it. I did a fair bit of research for this one and your heart just breaks reading about what those poor fellows went through.

Jessica Rosen said...

Needed a couple of tissues. So well done, not just in its message - which is gorgeous - but in your use of language. What a fitting tribute. Love that you included lyrics from John Lennon's "Imagine."

Take care,
Jess

Icy Sedgwick said...

I normally can't stand John Lennon but I think he got it spot-on with Imagine. I've had it stuck in my head since I woke up.

afullnessinbrevity said...

Beautiful, Icy. The humanity is captured so well in the midst of the horror.
This is my favourite line: "The machine guns keep their staccato laughter to themselves."
Lest We Forget.
Adam B @revhappiness

Kath said...

I visited the grave in France of one of my cousins in 2008, my mother and I were the first members of the family to have made the trip to find where he was laid to rest, and it had an incredible impact upon me. I had to keep reminding myself that each cross or headstone represented a life, there were so many that it was bewildering.

I love the story of the Christmas ceasefire, a moment of humanity and warmth in an otherwise inhumane war. I cried reading this, it's beautiful and you captured the moment so well.

Tony Noland said...

The Christmas truce is one of the most moving scenes of any war, all the more so because the world where such things are possible is so very, very dead and gone.

Good work, Icy.

Rebecca Emin said...

This is so beautifully written, and to know it is based in fact makes it so moving. What I find so hard to imagine, is how those poor men felt the next day when they had to pick up the guns again.

Thanks so much for writing this, Icy.

Sophie said...

This is really beautiful.
The Christmas Day truce is such a moving story.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Adam - Thank you.

Kath - I think the Christmas ceasefire serves to highlight how pointless the rest of the war was. No one really "won".

Tony - That's very true. In a way, I think that's what makes it even more painful.

Rebecca - Some of the soldiers even swapped addresses...that must have been awful to have to kill someone you'd just gotten to know the day before.

Sophie - I wanted to write something about the Great War for today but I couldn't think of what to say. The Christmas Day truce seemed to be the most apt story to tell.

demonesprit said...

What I hated most about the Christmas truce was the reaction afterwards by TPTB. Nearly anyone of any consequence involved in it was severely punished for what they did. Seems incomprehensible now ... what a different world.

theothersideofdeanna said...

This is so very well written Icy, especially the dialogue. You have a great gift for dialect in dialogue. It's obvious you poured your heart into this one, and I thank you for it.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Deanna - I couldn't resist giving Dougie a Geordie accent. The various battalions from Northumberland often got fairly horrendous orders in both wars, and I sometimes feel they get forgotten.

Eric J. Krause said...

Beautiful and touching story. It's such a horrid event (all wars are), but it was nice to see a bit of humanity in there, even if it only lasted a day or two.

daniellelapaglia said...

Absolutely beautiful, Icy. Brilliant writing. I love this line: The machine guns keep their staccato laughter to themselves.

~Tim said...

Both posts are wonderful tributes.

John Wiswell said...

“What the deuce is going on?”

That line is common enough, but for whatever reason in this context I read it loud and indignantly as John Cleese. No chance he was mind-casted for the role, was there?

I always enjoy those WWI stories of troops who deliberately set down arms or "accidentally" aimed far too high for the entirety of Christmas.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Eric - I'm reading a book of accounts written by soldiers who were there and while a lot of it is truly horrifying, it's amazing how many instances there are of soldiers helping the wounded, regardless of side, or of tremendous acts of bravery (like the captain who caught grenades and threw them back to save his trapped battalion). Really warms the heart.

Danni - I have no idea where that line came from, from I'm quite glad it wrote itself in there.

Tim - Thank you.

John - I think I had Michael Redgrave in mind but you're right, John Cleese would work equally as well. According to the book I'm reading, while there was no truce in Christmas 1915, a lot of the troops did shout Merry Christmas to each other across No Man's Land. In one account, the soldier told of how the Germans tried to leave their trench on Christmas Day, no doubt to have a temporary truce, but the British had their orders and any hopes of a repeat of Christmas 1914 were dashed.

Carrie said...

Love teh photo, very beautiful. this whole ordeal did occur and this was a very touching retelling for sure. Awesome story Icy.

Maria A. Kelly said...

Beautiful tribute to one of the most touching real life moments in war. I have always loved this event and I love what you've done with it. Bravo!

Michelle R. said...

The topic is great and the piece has a great action-oriented focus. I've heard about this before, and how surreal and heart warming it was for the two sides to play football together. Were there really Christmas trees, though? I'm just curious. If there really were Christmas trees, maybe you could describe them a bit more, so that a reader like myself isn't questioning their existence.

Lastly, I found the protagonist's thoughts about his book unlikely and besides the point. I think the piece would be stronger if those thoughts were simply cut out. Really, who wants war to end because they've run out of things to read? Sure, that might be on their mind, but I'd think the death and all that would be a more important reason and more at the forefront. As it is now, his thoughts have me questioning his intelligence and maturity.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Michelle - I don't know if there really were Christmas trees, I wasn't there. I'm just going off the eyewitness accounts written by soldiers of the time. Considering the distance between lines, it's unlikely someone climbing out of the British trench would be able to see the details of Christmas trees put up by the Germans.

As for the stuff about the book, that is there for a reason - no one thought the war would last very long, and that's why he's only taken one with him as he didn't expect to be there for months or years. Also, Walter is a captain, and I was pointing out the idiocy that many of the officers displayed. Many officers were known to complain about the conditions in the trenches, or a lack of servants to wait upon them.

Laura Eno said...

It's beautiful, Icy, and I love the John Lennon sentiment as well. It's how I've always felt the world should be.

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

Extremely touching.

Sam said...

This is a brilliantly written and very moving piece, Icy. It is particularly poignant for me to have read it on the morning of Remembrance Sunday. I think you have captured prefectly the absurdity of, under the circumstances, a relatively normal Christmas, which just goes to prove the avaerage soldier on the ground has a lot more intelligence than senior officers often give them credit for. I also liked how you portrayed the nature of Capt. Graves and illustrated his feeling the war would be over by Christmas through his lack of forsight in packing more reading material; presumably he felt he wouldn't need any more books as he'd be on his way home by then.

I apologise in advance for the length of my comment however, as this is something quite dear to my heart, I feel compelled to pick up on the comment made disputing the existence of Christmas trees in the trenches during Christmas 1914. The fact that German units decorated their trench parapets with candle-lit Christmas trees (tannenbaum) and paper lanterns is well documented from eye witness accounts and war diaries, for example:

Leutnant Johannes Niemann, 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment states, "We came up to take over the trenches on the front between Frelinghien and Houplines, where our Regiment and the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders were face to face... My Company Commander and I, savouring the unaccustomed calm, sat with our orderlies round a Christmas tree we had put up in our dugout."

In a letter to his parents, Josef Wenzl, a German soldier recalls, "The British burst into song with a carol, to which we replied with ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’. It was a very moving moment - hated and embittered enemies were singing carols around the Christmas tree."

One German officer, Kurt Zehmisch, a German lieutenant, described the candle lighting of these Christmas trees in the following manner: "It was pure illumination - along the trench parapets there were Christmas trees lit up by burning candles."

There is a photograph of German officers decorating their trench Christmas tree here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/25/weekinreview/25word.ready.html

From the British and Allied side:

Gunner Herbert Smith, 5th Battery, Royal Field Artillery states, "On Christmas Eve the Germans had a Christmas tree in the trenches and Chinese lanterns all along the top of a parapet."

Rifleman Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade recalled, "...suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air!"

Sergt. A. Lovell, A Company, 3rd Rifle Brigade, writing to relatives on Christmas Day, said, "Christmas Day! The most wonderful day on record. In the early hours of the morning the events of last night appeared as some weird dream – but to-day, well, it beggars description. You will hardly credit what I am going to tell you. Listen. Last night as I sat in my little dug-out, writing, my chum came bursting in upon me with: “Bob! hark at ‘em!” And I listened. From the German trenches came the sound of music and singing. My chum continued. “They’ve got Christmas trees all along the top of their trenches I Never saw such a sight!”. Climbing the parapet, I saw a sight which I shall remember to my dying day. Right along the whole of their line were hung paper lanterns and illuminations of every description."

Please feel free to edit the above should you feel you need to. :)

Icy Sedgwick said...

Laura & Raven - Thank you.

Sam - I'm not editing a word. Thank you for putting so much time into a comment, and I'm glad you understood what I was trying to achieve.

Sam said...

The comment is my pleasure. I've just listened to your #SpokenSunday version of the story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm all teary-eyed, not just at the subject matter, but at hearing the Mother Tongue as she was meant to be spoken. Bravo!

vandamir said...

Beautiful, Icy. I've read some of the non-fiction stories of this day and your fictionalized version is just as touching.

laradunning said...

Wonderful peace. I watched a movie that had a similar theme. I think it was called noel. Even in war men need a repreive to believe that there is hope and goodness amoungst all men, even your eneimes have faces, hearts and loved ones. One day of feeling safe can keep one's sanity. Written beautifully and from the heart. Great to read!

Jason Coggins said...

You really are the most versatile writer on the interwebs. This gave me goose chills; even though I read it bathing in Australian tropical sunshine you evoked the frozen European scene perfectly. Wow.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Vandamir - Thank you.

Lara - I'm reading a book of accounts written by soldiers in the trenches and they often say the same thing, that just one half hour sat in reserve with a cup of tea is enough to nourish the soul.

Jason - *blush* Thank you!

ganymeder said...

Wonderfully done. The Christmas truces, always told like they're such an uplifting thing, have always depressed me. They always picked their guns up the next day. They never lasted. :(

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