Peace on Earth

—J.R. Lowell, The Present Crisis. St. 5.

Wilhelm Helmut Laufenberg grabbed a tannenbaum, which they had yet to decorate and ran towards the enemies front line, their trenches, poles strung with barbed wire less than a half dozen feet in front of them, were less than sixty yards from where he began his sprint towards the middle ground, the ground in between the two front lines—the ground everyone just referred to as No Man’s Land.

He stopped in the middle of No Man’s Land and stuck the tree into the ground, a mixture of icy mud and the remnants of the all too numerous fallen soldiers’ corpses, some of which had lain there for more than a month. The young German officer could see that there were numerous rifles pointed in his direction and put his hands out in front of him, in a friendly gesture. He spoke fairly good English, he had taken it for three years in school, and had a brother who had settled in America a decade ago who also helped him, by writing him letters in English and making him write back in English. “Tommy, listen to me,” he said, “we Germans wish a truce, peace for Christmas, no more killing. I am Oberleutenant Wilhelm Laufenberg and I give to zoo my word that no German soldier vill shoot. Come out and ve vill be frends—ja? It is Christmnas, ja?”

It was mid-afternoon and the silence and stillness in the air was hauntingly eerie.

But, then, Private Sammy Baldwin looked at Private Abe Schmidt, who looked at Corporal Tommy Barnes, who looked at Sergeant Gerald Thatcher and they all smiled and jumped out of the trench and walked towards the German lieutenant, who was calling for his troops to come forward, which they were also now doing. They met in No Man’s Land and began exchanging cigars for cigarettes and jam and sweets for beer; the English had Princess Mary’s Christmas Boxes, some with cigarettes and tobacco and some with chocolates, and the Germans had their metal German belt buckles that read Gott mit uns or God with us, and German cigar boxes that had a sword with Flammenschwert, or Flaming sword, stenciled into the middle of the wooden box. Some of the Germans spoke

perfect English, like Harry Berg, a Berliner who had spent five years in Canada and Fritz Hoffman, who had driven a cab in London and waited tables there for a decade. And, some of the British soldiers spoke perfect German, like Abe Schmidt or Gerd Eichel, who grew up on a farm in Nova Scotia and spoke only German until the age of six, when he first entered public school. A German soldier began juggling tins of food, than miscellaneous items and did a handstand on a flat board, while he juggled three tins with his other hand; he was given an uproarious ovation and was taking a bow when another German brought out a table with pistols, plates and silverware, which he began making disappear. He spoke perfect English and had been a magician with a troupe in London.

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