Christmas 1914 was my last Christmas as John Harris.
While I don’t remember how I spent it, I do know from records that I was still in England at the time; perhaps they were generous and gave me leave from training to go back to Hereford or East Coker, I really don’t know.
What I do know about Christmas 1914 is enough to make me very depressed in hindsight.
When I joined the army in September 1914, the general consensus was that the war would be over by Christmas. I may well have joined with that expectation, that the war would end before I had to go into battle and that I would settle into a lucrative but uneventful post in India most likely (that is where the 2nd KSLI was at the time, not returning to England until November).
Then there was the Christmas Truce, what may have been the most celebrated act of defiance in all of history. No doubt I would have heard that Fritz and Tommy were singing “Stille Nacht” and trading gifts in No Man’s Land and the thought would have crossed my mind that the soldiers’ hearts weren’t in this war and that peace couldn’t be far off.
I was wrong. The soldiers did not bid for a peace of their own because they let fear rule them. The threat of being shot loomed large over anyone caught fraternizing with the Germans after Christmas 1914. But perhaps an act of peace would have been worth dying for instead of 4 years of man-made hell on earth.
I didn’t live to see Christmas 1915. I had to have died with the faint hope that there would be one day a year those damned shells would stop falling. Now I have only history to tell me those hopes were in vain.