It’s five months into a conflict so devastating they’ll call it the Great War and — at least for the next twenty years — the war to end all wars.
Memories of home are still relatively fresh. If you try hard enough you can still conjure up the taste of a Sunday roast, the comfort of a soft bed, the smell of your lover’s hair.
You shouldn’t have to rely on memory. This was all supposed to be over by Christmas.
Yet here you are. It’s Christmas. And it doesn’t look like you’re going home any time soon.
There’s no manual for this kind of war. For want of ground to be gained, both sides dig in. Literally dig in, gouging lanes into the earth, multi-purpose channels in which to travel, keep watch, take cover, live and, all too often, die.
Acting out of — what? — desperation, homesickness, a yearning for normality, your own sense of humanity, you do a brave and stupid thing. You stick your head above the trench and step tentatively into no man’s land.Embed from Getty Images
The thing is, you’re not alone. Along the 700 kilometres of trenches stretched across the European landscape, there are plenty of souls on both sides as brave and stupid as you are.
Together you create one of the enduring stories of World War I. One hundred years from now, people will still be talking about how you downed your weapons, greeted your enemy, exchanged cigars and gifts, sang carols and played football.
On the centenary of this event, the second in line to the British throne will describe it as “as a message of hope over adversity, even in the bleakest of times.”
People around the world will reflect on how much they need this message of hope, particularly after events in Peshawar, Gumsuri, New York, Sydney and Cairns.
There will be some touching commemorations, many football related. As part of the Football Remembers initiative, hundreds of opposing teams in the UK, amateur and professional, will combine for pre-match photos. British and German forces will re-enact the Game of Truce. Statues will be unveiled.
The Union of European Football Associations will release a video, with England’s Wayne Rooney and Germany’s Philipp Lahm, among others, reading excerpts from soldiers’ letters home.
Football’s governing body, FIFA, mired in corruption allegations and no doubt grateful for a distraction, will do… absolutely nothing.
Nevertheless, in a world where atrocities are commonplace and know no boundaries, your actions on this Christmas Day, on this sodden turf, will inspire the world in ways you can’t right now imagine.
Right now, the powers that be are livid. Left to your own devices, they think, there’ll be no bloody war.
Next Christmas, this sort of shenanigans won’t be tolerated. There’ll be a court martial for anyone experimenting with this fanciful notion of peace.
But today you have learned your enemy is not so much unlike you. A common bond has brought you together in this most desolate of places.
In a final act of camaraderie, you wish each other Merry Christmas. You return to your trench and, with the hand extended minutes ago in friendship, take up your weapon.