Today is a day I will keep forever in my heart because wonder of wonders, I’ve received a letter from Daniel! What a fantastic way to make up for that dreary, rainy Christmas we had here in France, which passed with little more than a lonely glass of wine in my room.
It came this morning just as I was preparing to go out into our village to buy food supplies dressed as my alter ego Mademoiselle Antoinette LaFleur. I’m so glad that I had made a deal with Captain Smithwick to have all letters addressed to our Boston apartment from Daniel be intercepted and put in a second envelope.
With butterflies in my stomach, I opened the letter, and a photograph fell out. Smiling and tearing up at the same time, I stared at a photograph of my love, leaning nonchalantly against a military vehicle with one hand resting on his hip and a jaunty, familiar grin on his handsome face. Though a little gaunt, he looked very smart in his army uniform.
Oh mercy. I miss him so much.
Here is the content of the letter:
December 25, 1915
My dearest Ginger,
Merry Christmas! I hope this letter finds you well. I’m sorry I couldn’t write you sooner, but the mail service hasn’t been very reliable. How is everything in Boston? I hope your father, step-mother and sister are healthy and well. I confess that the conditions on the field in winter are challenging, but my heart is strengthened knowing you are safe and warm and far away from all this nasty mess of a war.
How do you like the photograph? It was taken in September by a newspaper correspondent that who snapped a picture of every soldier in our regiment while we were on a break from fighting. We just received our copy and Im immediately sending it you. It’s not much of a gift, but it’s all I have to offer this year. If all goes well, this conflict will be over soon, and we can celebrate the holidays next year in comfort and style, and I will buy you whatever your heart desires!
I have a peculiar story to tell you. We were engaged in heavy fighting with the German army just outside Laventie, earlier in the morning on Christmas Eve. Things went strangely quiet in the mid afternoon with no shots being fired from the German side, and thus, none returned from ours. The men in my unit were beginning to wonder if the Germans had retreated somehow without us seeing them, due to the ongoing rain.
In the evening, when the rain stopped, a couple of flasks of rum were commandeered and after a few shots we started singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. We were all quite warm from the rum when we broke into a rousing rendition of “Silent Night.”
At first I thought my mind was playing tricks on me—not an uncommon occurrence when a man is cold with only strong rum in his stomach—but I heard an echo of the song in the distance, and most distinctly in the German language. I held out a hand, urging the men in our trench to quiet, and the angelic notes of ‘Stille Nacht’ floated across no man’s land. By the last verse, we joined in again in English, and when the song came to a close, a great cheer rose up from the German side.
Now, we had been strictly forbidden by our commanding officers to engage in any kind of Christmas Truce such as the type that had happened last year at various points on the front. After all, how can we expect to win the war when we refuse to shoot at the enemy? Who can explain it? Maybe it’s the fact that we have been away from our loved ones too long, or that we harbor the hope that the war is soon coming to an end, but when we saw some of the Germans clustered around a burning brazier some of us popped our heads up to take a look.
We heard a German voice call out, “A merry Christmas, we don’t fire at you.” Sure enough, the German soldiers had no rifles.
Please keep what I’m about to share to yourself, but the experience was so deeply moving, I just must share it with you.
Both sides met in the middle of no man’s land, in the dark and the cold, and for an hour or so, we exchanged gifts of cigarettes, hats, buttons and food. I struck up a conversation with one likeable German fellow, Adelbert, who had a good command of English having worked in England before the war. Like me, he missed his wife very much, and suffered from homesickness. He showed me the small photo he kept of her, and I, in turn showed him the picture of you that I carry with me always. According to Adelbert, many German soldiers were completely fed up with the war and felt that it would soon end in our favor.
I can’t begin to express my conflicting emotions. Here I was, sharing a flask of rum with someone who had only that same morning been trying to kill me, and I him. Those who do the most fighting in war are often the ones who want to do it the least, and even more often, are the last to benefit from it.
The impromptu truce ended when a ranking officer came by our trench and yelled at us to get back to our places. At first many of us refused but when one of our own machine guns were turned against us we said our goodbyes and headed back to our mud-filled, rat infested ditch, our hearts heavy. The fighting resumed at dawn. I did not see Adelbert again.
Ginger, my love. I’m so very tired of this war and I hope it ends soon.
I miss you terribly.
I wiped the tears from my eyes but they came too fast for me to stem the tide. Daniel will be in my prayers tonight, along with Adlebert and his wife, and later as I sleep, I will also no doubt be dreaming of Daniel, the two of us back in Boston, happy and safe.