“Ave Maria, gratia plena…Maria, gratia plena…”
There was laughter from the field, and carols coming from the trenches. British or German…it was impossible to tell.
The finest wines and the best food they had stored away, reserved for use on the battlefield, was shared amongst all. Friend or enemy; it did not matter. All that mattered was the fact that it was Christmas.
Today, we called a temporary truce; just for today, just for the day of Christmas. We walked over the bodies that littered the ground of No Man’s Land…and became friends with our enemies.
”Maria, gratia plena…Ave, ave, dominus…”
So what was it that made us do this? …Even I don’t know.
Perhaps it was on the spur of the moment; maybe it was the Christmas trees that we Germans had placed in our trenches as we sang the songs of Christmas. But really…maybe it was neither. Maybe the very concept of ‘Christmas’ had made us desire the company of others, happy and laughing, not shooting each other, desperately trying to win a hopeless war.
”Dominus tecum…Benedicta tu in mulieribus…”
The gunfire died down slowly, each side singing in response to the other. The Germans; Silent Night, and the British; Ave Maria.
The make-shift German Christmas trees were not bombarded by bombs or bullets, but taken to the middle ground and gathered ‘round, instead showered with joy and champagne.
“Et benedictus…Et benedictus fructus ventris…”
My greeting was stiff and awkward, filled with weariness and unease as I stood over the British soldier I was attempting to befriend. I shifted nervously when he stood at me blankly, holding a small container of champagne in his hand as he sat on the damp dirt. “Hello…?” he replied uncertainly, giving a small wave of his free hand.
“Umm…Kann ich hier sitze…?” I asked timidly, pointing down at the area beside him.
He looked at me questioningly, cocking his head to the side as a sure indication that he couldn’t understand German. “Ah…” I stuttered as I racked my brain for the basic English words for this, “C-c-can…I…s-sit…hhhere?”
The man smiled, patting the ground beside him and I gave a sigh of relief, taking my seat beside him.
“Ventris tui Jesus…Ave Maria…”
A truce not called for — an unexpected calm during the storm. A sudden, unforeseen friend that sat on the other side of the battlefield. I wasn’t sure what we were to call this — but certainly it would have been something positive.
He seemed surprised as I revealed a tin container I’d been concealing in my uniform, popping the lid off and offering him a piece of the contents: biscuits.
These biscuits were my prize since I stepped onto the battlefield so many days ago. I’d been saving them for a special occasion, most likely when, if I ever, went home. Never had I expected myself to offer one to my enemy, of all things.
“Ave Maria mater dei…Ora pro nobis pecatoribus…”
He seemed hesitant as he reached out. Perhaps he thought them poisoned?
Usually, one would be offended by the thought, but I could understand them. If your enemy presented you with food in the middle of a war, even you’d be taken aback.
Instead, I smiled, breaking off a piece and placing it in my mouth. Holding my thumb up, I assured him it was safe to eat. Hesitantly, he placed it in his mouth and swallowed, an expression of delight almost immediately rising up to his face as if to say ‘thank you.’
“Ora, ora pro nobis…Ora, ora pro nobis pecatoribus…”
He motioned that he didn’t have anything to give me, a regretful look deep in his eyes. I motioned to him that it was okay, since I was sharing it with him of my own will. Although, even with that said, he seemed reluctant to back down.
Quite honestly, he was determined to give me a gift, no matter how much I insisted he didn’t have to.
“Nunc et in hora mortis…In hora mortis, mortis nostrae…”
The sun began to rise in the distance, a fiery, golden veil washing through the battlefield. It was time to end the truce; Christmas day had come to an end. We both stood in the wavering darkness, as did so many others. “Good-bye,” I said softly, having learned some English from him.
He nodded and held his hand out. “Good-bye,” he replied, “If only we’d met at a pub rather than a battlefield…”
“Komm,” my comrades called to me, “Es ist zeit zu gehen.”
I nodded to them, giving one final good-bye before turning away. “…Wait!” he called to me desperately, “I forgot to give you a gift…”
I turned to see what he was trying to show me, but it was then that a gunshot echoed in the distance…and I felt the bullet go through my hand. “…! Was machst du…! What are you…!”
My comrades restrained me in an instant, dragging me down towards our bunkers as I flailed my limbs furiously. I…I shared my treasure with him…and this is how he repays me?! I looked at his hateful face, but all he did was smile remorsefully, whispering a small “Merry Christmas” under his breath.
“In hora mortis nostrae, Ave Maria…”
I arrived at the medical tent later, comrades pinning me to the bed. “WARUM HAST DU NICHT LASSN SIE MICH TÖTEN?! WHY DID YOU STOP ME FROM KILLING HIM?!” I shouted angrily, “ER STAHL MEINE KEKS UND SCHOSSEN MIR IN DIE HAND! WARUM?! HE STOLE MY BISCUITS AND SHOT ME IN THE HAND! WHY?!“
“WEISST DI NICHT, DAS GESCHENK GAB ER DIR?! DO YOU NOT REALIZE THE GIFT HE GAVE YOU?!” one of them yelled, shutting me up for one moment.
“WELCHES GESCHENK?! WHAT GIFT?!“
“... Er hat dir das geschenk des Lebens ...He gave you the gift of life,” the other said, “Durch erschießen sie in der hand hat er ihr Leben garantiert. By shooting you in the hand, he has guaranteed your life.“
“A-aber er schoss mir in die Hand ...! B-but he shot me in the hand!“ I retorted in disbelief.
“Es war schon immer gesagt, wenn Sie schießen, waren die beste Wahl wäre Deine Hand sein. It has always been said that if you were to be shot, the best place would be your hand.“
I could have slapped myself right then for not realizing it. This was his gift to me, relieving me of my military duty to guarantee my life…and I had accused him of being ungrateful.
…The bringer of life and the deliverer of death. We were both at the same time, but we knew what each entitled. He’d freed me from the struggles of battle, but wounded me in the process. We both knew it was worth it, that’s for sure. I didn’t know it at the time, but...he’d saved me with the least possible injury.
I bet we both wished for it, maybe at the same time, but really, my only regret was that I was unable to free him from the fighting…and grant him a sancta quies.