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Culture Forum

Culture Forum

  1. 03 Dec '14 09:31
    This year is obviously the centenary of the start of World War I.

    The UK commemorated this with a display of nearly 900,000 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, one for each of the British and colonial deaths in the war. You can find a report here by CBS which has some good shots of it:


    There was something deeply ironic about officials warning people to stay away from the area on health and safety grounds bearing in mind what each of those poppies represent.

    In keeping with the Christmas theme, here is the poem the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy wrote to remember one of the most poignant moments of the war.

    Carol Ann Duffy: The Christmas Truce

    Christmas Eve in the trenches of France, the guns were quiet.
    The dead lay still in No Man's Land –
    Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
    The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

    Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel, sparkled and winked.
    A boy from Stroud stared at a star
    to meet his mother's eyesight there.
    An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

    In a copse of trees behind the lines, a lone bird sang.
    A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin holding his winter ground –
    then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

    Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
    a few lit pipes;
    most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
    waiting for sleep.
    The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.

    But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief thrilled the night air,
    where glittering rime on unburied sons
    treasured their stiff hair.
    The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.

    On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
    no sign of life,
    no shadows, shots from snipers, nowt to note or report.
    The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.

    Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes,
    as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone, candlelit on the parapets,
    and they started to sing, all down the German lines.

    Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot, or vaporised
    by falling shells, or live to tell, heard for the first time then –
    Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …

    Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge from man to man;
    a gift to the heart from home,
    or childhood, some place shared …
    When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.

    A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
    and all joined in,
    till the Germans stood, seeing
    across the divide,
    the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.

    All night, along the Western Front, they sang, the enemies –
    carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems, in German, English, French;
    each battalion choired in its grim trench.

    So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist, to open itself
    and offer the day like a gift
    for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
    with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

    Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!
    A young Berliner, brandishing schnapps,
    was the first from his ditch to climb.
    A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.

    Then it was up and over, every man, to shake the hand
    of a foe as a friend,
    or slap his back like a brother would;
    exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie's stew,

    Tickler's jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
    beer, sauerkraut;
    or chase six hares, who jumped
    from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
    and make of a battleground a football pitch.

    I showed him a picture of my wife. Ich zeigte ihm
    ein Foto meiner Frau.
    Sie sei schön, sagte er.
    He thought her beautiful, he said.

    They buried the dead then, hacked spades into hard earth
    again and again, till a score of men
    were at rest, identified, blessed.
    Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.

    And all that marvellous, festive day and night, they came and went,
    the officers, the rank and file, their fallen comrades side by side
    beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves …

    … beneath the shivering, shy stars
    and the pinned moon
    and the yawn of History;
    the high, bright bullets
    which each man later only aimed at the sky.
  2. Subscriber sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    03 Dec '14 22:39
    In that spirit, you need to listen to John McCutcheon singing his song

    Christmas in the trenches:

  3. 04 Dec '14 11:54
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    In that spirit, you need to listen to John McCutcheon singing his song

    Christmas in the trenches:
    Very appropriate. Thanks.