Posted in Film/Documentaries/Reviews, General Interest, Guest Writer, Video

The making of a 1949 Hollywood film in the little town of Much Wenlock (Shropshire, England)

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It’s hard to imagine, but in 1949 Hollywood descended on my little home town of Much Wenlock. Both its locations and inhabitants featured in David O. Selznick’s screen version of Mary Webb’s 1917 novel, Gone to Earth. The film’s star, Oscar-winner Jennifer Jones, certainly looks the part, and in this respect she well conjures the book’s central character, the untamed but doomed spirit that is Shropshire lass, Hazel Woodus.

As an American, Jones of course had to receive specialist drilling in the Shropshire dialect, a form of speech which these days is scarcely heard, but would have been the norm during Webb’s childhood. She writes it very clearly in the book’s dialogue, and Jones makes a good stab at it, but it perhaps sounds overdone to modern ears. People in England do not speak like this any more.
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Mary Webb herself spent her adolescence in Much Wenlock, and for the rest of her too-short life lived in various parts of rural Shropshire. She knew country ways intimately. Her writing is rooted always in the landscapes of her own growing up – the upland wilds and rugged long-gone lead-mining and peasant farming communities, the small market towns. But although she observes the hardship and poverty with a keen eye, she has tended to be dismissed as a writer of the romantic and rustic, her work parodied in Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm.

In her day, though, she had some very well known literary admirers including Rebecca West and John Buchan (Thirty-Nine Steps). I think her novels deserve a rediscovery. Her themes are still relevant today: male attitudes to women being one of them; human cruelty and wilful destructiveness for another.

In Gone to Earth, the central character, Hazel Woodus, is eighteen, motherless, and living in an isolated cottage with her coffin-making, bee-keeping father, Abel. Her only companion is a tame fox, Foxy, and her only guidance in life is dubiously received from her dead mother’s book of gypsy spells.

Two men want her: the Baptist Minister who marries her and tries to protect what he sees as her innocent spirit, and the fox-hunting landowner who wants only bodily possession. Hazel herself is torn between respectable conformity and her growing sexual awareness. And if I tell you that the term ‘gone to earth’ is the huntsman’s cry when a fox goes underground to escape the hounds, you will know that the story does not end well.

In other senses the book’s plot may be purely allegorical. Above all, it is about the pointless destruction of natural beauty and freedom. Webb was writing it at a time when three of her younger brothers were fighting in the World War 1 trenches.

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Much Wenlock 1949 in outside and inside the medieval Guildhall: scenes from Gone to Earth, director Michael Powell

100_6020_thumbThe making of the film did not run altogether smoothly, and there are perhaps some parallels between Hazel as an object of male possession and control , and the position of the film’s star, Jennifer Jones. She had had an affair with the executive producer, David O. Selznik, and by 1949 they were married. He wanted Gone to Earth to be solely a showcase for her, and he did not think the film’s makers, the fabulous storytelling team of director Michael Powell, and screenwriter, Emeric Pressburger, (The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) had done her justice. He even took them to court for not producing what was in the script. He lost the case, but he still had the right to make an alternative version.

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The upshot was that for the 1952 American release, renamed The Wild Heart , he chopped all the scenes that did not make the most of Jones, had new scenes shot, and to make sense of the makeover added a commentary by Joseph Cotton. The film was not well received, and so did not serve his purpose. Only recently has the original Powell and Pressburger version been fully restored.

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Hazel goes to the Devil’s Chair

For more on Mary Webb:
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“This year’s discovery has been Mary Webb, author of Gone to Earth. She is a genius, and I shouldn’t mind wagering that she is going to be the most distinguished writer of our generation.” — Rebecca West, review of Gone to Earth in the Times Literary Supplement, August 30, 1917

Mary Webb: neglected genius for the synopsis of Gone to Earth and also for details of her other works.

– Tish Farrell

© 2014, Tish Farrell, All rights reserved; photographs either as indicated above or in public domain

unnamed-6Unknown-951ts8NDtDUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_TISH FARRELL (Writer on the Edge) ~  is an award-winning English writer of fiction and non-fiction for young adults. In the 1990s, after a career in Museum Education, she went to live in Kenya, East Africa. It was here that she began writing for the African Children’s Literature market. An anthropologist by training, she was dismayed at the lack of contemporary fiction that reflected young Africans’ lives in their increasingly urbanised world.

Her first short novel, Jessicah the Mountain Slayer, about a Nairobi street girl, and a picture book Flame Tree Market were published by Zimbabwe Publishing House, Zimbabwe and Phoenix Publishing, Kenya. Both books won awards at the 1996 Zimbabwe International Book Fair and have remained in print in both countries ever since.  In the United States her short fiction has appeared in the multi-award winning Cricket and Cicada Magazines. Now living back in England, she writes novelised short stories for reluctant teen readers for Ransom Publishing. The most recent title, Mau Mau Brother, tells the story of the 1950s Kenya uprising from the viewpoint of a Kikuyu boy. She has also just published a Kindle novella e-book, Losing Kui. This new edition was originally published by Cicada Magazine and is suitable for adults and young adults alike. Go here for more about her Books

Tish blogs about Africa, the ancient Shropshire town of Much Wenlock where she lives, writing, and much else besides at: http://tishfarrell.wordpress.com/   

Posted in General Interest, Naomi Baltuck, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer

This Precious Stone Set in a Silver Sea

 

This royal throne of kings…

… this sceptred isle.

This earth of majesty…

…this seat of Mars.

This other Eden…

…demi-paradise.

This fortress built by Nature for herself.

Against infection…

…and the hand of war.

This happy breed of men…

…this little world.

This precious stone…

…set in the silver sea…


…Which serves it in the office of a wall.


Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,—

This blessed plot…

…this earth…

…this realm…

…this England.

Words by William Shakespeare, from King Richard II. Act ii. Sc. 1.

All images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Essay, Liz Rice-Sosne, memoir, poem, Poems/Poetry, poetry

I Imagine …

I imagine Mummy

She is listening for Doodle Bugs

Running past St James Square

They make a swooshing noise before

Hitting their targets

Windows are darkening now

As she scurries by them

Like a mouse

Shades being pulled down

All light receding and gone

She is heading towards St Paul’s

She is meeting with a friend

At the statue of St Ann

Dinner was to soon follow

Constant gray clouds of dust

Engulfed her in dirt

London was under

Aerial bombardment

The Luftwaffe would spend

Fifty-seven nights

Bombing this great city

Wishing to eradicate it

From the face of the earth

This symbol of London and God

But London endured

St Paul’s remained standing

A symbol of British

endurance

Mummy lived to return home

To the USA

But I still imagine

I still wonder

Was it the war that

Shaped her personna

Making her harsh

She once said to me

During a phone call

With Mummy

Not long before her death

She told me that

The war was the most

Thrilling period of her life

I understand that feeling

I know what she was saying

She is gone

St Paul’s is standing

London thrives

Yet still I imagine

We all must come to terms with our upbringing.  For some there is more pain to work through than for others.  I had what one might call a proper upbringing.  Yet still, one filled with much pain.  My mother was not in London during those 57 nights of the Blitz.  This was of course poetic license on my part.  However, she was living in London during 1943 and 1944 in WWII.  She became a lifelong Anglophile.  This fact set up some difficult goals for her children to attain for they were not British (and we came after the war).

Sometimes due to her scrapbooks I feel as though I was there, in London during the war.

There was a time that I knew nothing about war.  A spiritual experience that I was willing to have in 2005, dictated that I learn about war.  Mummy never spoke of her work in London during WWII.  She worked for the US propaganda office or the OWI – Office of War Information.  I really never knew until I found two scrapbooks while cleaning out the family home.  Finding these scrapbooks made me realize what a vary brave woman she had been.  As a result, instead of harboring resentment towards her (resentment that she earned) I came to have significant admiration for her.

I wish to redo these books as they are in a state of disintegration.  However, it is exceptionally difficult for me to work with them.  I am very emotional about the subject.

Politicians never give thought to the consequences of wars into which they enter.  They have no clue as to the gravity of the collateral damage that accompanies their warring ways.  The United States of course had to enter WWII.  But, Hitler did not have to begin The War To End All Wars.  That war like so many have touched people down through the ages, times long past the end of the war in question.  War shapes people for generations to come.  Peace begins at home.  Not in the country, the state or the city.  No peace begins in the heart of the individual.  For it is when you get peaceful individuals together, one at a time that real peace begins to grow into a movement.  It becomes sizable and a peaceful nation is born.

The following paragraph is taken word for word out from Wikipedia:

“On 31 December, the Daily Mail took the unusual step of publishing the photographer’s account of how he took the picture:[

I focused at intervals as the great dome loomed up through the smoke. Glares of many fires and sweeping clouds of smoke kept hiding the shape. Then a wind sprang up. Suddenly, the shining cross, dome and towers stood out like a symbol in the inferno. The scene was unbelievable. In that moment or two I released my shutter.”  – Herbert Mason

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© 2013, essay and photographs, Liz Rice-Stone, All rights reserved

unnamed-2LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku.  She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced numerous friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”

BLOGGERS IN PLANET LOVE

Rainforest_Fatu_HivaPLEASE JOIN US: Beginning at  7 p.m. PST this evening, we are celebrating Valentine’s Day with love – not the love of and for another person – but our love for our mother planet ….

WE INVITE ALL writers, poets, artists, photographers, musicians and other creatives to join us at The Bardo Group for our Valentine’s Day event, BLOGGERS IN PLANET LOVE. Link in your work that shares your appreciation for the beauty of nature or your concern for environmental issues. You can share the url to your post via Mr. Linky, which will stay up for seventy-two hours. Corina Ravenscraft (DragonDreams) hosts. Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day) will visit sites and comment. We hope you will also visit others and comment on their work, lending support and encouragement and making connection.

If tonight is date-night for you, remember that you do have seventy-two hours to link your work in. It doesn’t have to be a new or recent piece, just something in the spirit of the event, something that expresses your love of our planet.

Photo credit ~ Tropical Rainforest, Fatu Hiva Island, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia by Benutzerseite: Makemake via German language Wikipedia under CC A-SA 3.0 Unported license.

Posted in General Interest, Naomi Baltuck, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer

A Celebration of Fenestration

The Latin word for window is “fenestra.”  The old English word for window, “eagbyrl,” means “eye-door.”   Just like a door, it can be used for peeking out…

…or peeking in.

Whether you are looking in or out, there are so many things to see, just behind the glass.

The earliest windows were holes in a wall.

Only big enough to let in a bit of light with the cold air, or to shoot an arrow through.

The ancient Romans were the first to use glass.

Then came windows of animal horn or hides, cloth, and in the Far East, even paper.

The Inuit people say, “Don’t let the window of your home be so small that the light of the sun cannot enter.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said people are like stained glass windows.   They sparkle and shine when the sun is out…

…but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed.

In the Ukraine they say you don’t really see the world, if you look only through your own window.

And what a world there is out there to see!


There is another old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

…and one that says a smile is a window on your face to show your heart is at home.

The world on either side of your window can be sad…

…distant…

…daunting…

…and scary.

All the more reason to let the light in.

Let your window’s light shine like a beacon…

…and reflect upon the beauty of our world.

All the windows of the world!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Naomi Baltuck, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer

Whatever the Hell It Takes

Well?  What do you think?  Is it half full or half empty?

Do you see a gray cloudy day or blue skies?

Is the task before you huge and daunting?

Or are you ready to dig in?

Of course, your perspective will be affected by where you are…

…where you’re going…

…or your current situation in life.

Timing can certainly affect your perspective.

When you have no control over certain events, you can still choose the lens through which you look.

Will this injury leave a horrible scar or provide material for a good story to tell the relatives back home?

Is this an obstacle to folding clean laundry, or the cutest kid in the world?

Do you feel the damp and see the darkness, or admire the view?

It’s not always this easy to find a happy place….

…or even the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes you have to write yourself a better ending.

It helps to have someone who understands.

Who can lend a hand.

Who can help you put things in perspective.

If you can’t change your path, then do whatever the hell it takes to change your perspective.

Sometimes the glass really is half empty, but who says you can’t fill up the darn thing?  In fact, fill up another one too, for a friend.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Naomi Baltuck, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer

One Village

On the little island of Aeroskobing in Denmark…

…or above the clouds high up in the mountains of Switzerland.

At sea level in Iceland…

….or at the foot of a Norman castle in Ireland.

In the shadow of Cesky Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic…

…or on the shore of a fjiord in Norway.

Beneath an ancient Roman aquaduct in Spain…

øn a little cobbled street in Dorset…

Or deep in the Amazon jungle…

Each place has its own unique story and history…

Tastes…

Traditions…

Colors


And characters…

All so different and yet so familiar.

Almost like family.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Naomi Baltuck, Photography/Photographer, Story Telling, Photo Story

Doors

Is a door the way in or the way out?  It depends…are you coming or going?

We find many interesting doors in life.

Sometimes we know just what we need…

Other times the choice is not so clear…

Some doors are lovely…

Others scary…

Some are daunting…

It would be nice if we could sneak a peek…

Some doors are difficult to get to…

Still others can be hard to find…

Or best avoided…

But you never can tell which door…

…will open up onto a new friendship…

 

…or a loving family…

Which is why we must not be afraid to step out into the sunshine, or forget to invite someone in out of the cold.

Reach for the doorknob….

…..and see what you can find.

All words and images Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Naomi Baltuck, Photo Essay, Photography/Photographer

In Your Hands

My daughter Bea and I were having a little fun with shadows on the grounds of Dover Castle.

It made me think about writing–and life.  Life puts the raw material into our hands, and it’s up to us to mold it into whatever work of art we envision.  Look for the right light and context, and you can do so much with so little, and to great effect.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

NaomiPHOTO1-300ppi51kAqFGEesL._SY300_NAOMI BALTUCK ~ is a Contributing Editor and Resident Storyteller here410xuqmD74L._SY300_ at Bardo. She is a world-traveler and an award-winning writer, photographer, and story-teller whose works of fiction and nonfiction are available through Amazon HERE. Naomi presents her wonderful photo-stories – always interesting and rich with meaning and humor – at Writing Between the Lines, Life from the Writer’s POV. She also conducts workshops such as Peace Porridge (multicultural stories to promote cooperation, goodwill, and peaceful coexistence), Whispers in the Graveyard (a spellbinding array of haunting and mysterious stories), Tandem Tales, Traveling Light Around the World, and others. For more on her programs visit Naomi Baltuck.com

Posted in Fiction

ONE LAST CHRISTMAS POST, lest we forget the lessons of 1914

I’m preparing to get ready today for business as usual and there’s lots to share from Ann and Rob and other contributors. I decided to visit some blogs first. One of our contributors, Gayle Walters (Bodhirose’s Blog) had posted this historical fiction on her blog. It’s by children’s author, Aaron Shepard, and he allows it to be reblogged. It’s a short story based on the true events of the famous Christmas Eve truce of 1914 that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of as “one human episode amid all the atrocities.” We do have moments of truce in our personal, spiritual, and political lives. If we could only make such moments a regular thing, our preferred m.o., if you will … Jamie Dedes

Parents and educators will find good stories and scripts for children’s plays at Mr. Shepard’s website HERE.

Copyright © 2001, 2003 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose.

The story is formated as a letter ….

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
by
Aaron Shepard
Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their dugouts—yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench, killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.

And the rain—it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans. And with the rain has come mud—a good foot or more deep. It splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he tried to get out—just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land, bordered on both sides by barbed wire—yet they were close enough we sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common. And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning—Christmas Eve Day—we had our first good freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far as the eye could see.

“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas trees!”

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht . . . .

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one lovelier—or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes, British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started singing, and we all joined in.

The first Nowell, the angel did say . . . .

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their own and then began another.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum . . . .

Then we replied.

O come all ye faithful . . . .

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

Adeste fideles . . . .

British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have thought nothing could be more amazing—but what came next was more so.

“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no shoot.”

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land. One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others did the same—but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German cigar in his mouth!

“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you, stay alert.”

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled—British khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew English. I asked one of them why that was.

“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”

“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely, I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would like that very much and gave me his family’s address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts—our cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners, and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt—a fine souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said, “Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”

Clearly they are lied to—yet after meeting these men, I wonder how truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and then all joined in for—I am not lying to you—“Auld Lang Syne.” Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”

I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”

He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we must ask our hearts.”

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,
Tom
The photograph (via Wikipedia) is in the public domain: A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads:
1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.


Posted in Poems/Poetry

WHEN YOU SEE MILLIONS OF THE MOUTHLESS DEAD

CHARLES HAMILTON SORLEY (1895 – 1915)

British Poet

Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen in 1894. The son of the profressor of moral philosphy at Aberdeen University, Sorley was extremely intelligent and won a scholarship to Marlborough College.

In 1913 Sorely decided to spend a year in Germany before taking up the offer of a place at University college, Cambridge. When war was declared in August 1914, sorley immediately went back to England and enlisted in the British Army. Sorely joined the Suffolk Regiment and after several months training, Lieutenant Sorly was sent to the Western Front.

Sorley arrived in France in May 1915 and after three months was promoted to captain. Charles Hamilton Sorley was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on October 13, 1915. He left only 37 complete poems, including the one he wrote just before he was killed, When you see Millions of the Mouthless Dead. Sorley’s posthumous book, Marlborough and Other Poems was popular and achieved critical success when it was published in 1916. [adapted from Spartacus Educational, a site developed by John Simpkin (MPhil.), British educator, historian, and member of the European History E-Learning Project] J.D.

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WHEN YOU SEE MILLIONS OF THE MOUTHLESS DEAD

by

Charles Hamilton Sorley

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the overcrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all this for evermore.

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Photo credit ~ a cropped and retouched version of a portrait of British soldier poet, Charles Hamitlton Sorely dated c. 1914/1915, since Mr. Sorely is in uniform here and was enlisted in 1914 and killed in 1915. The photo was first published in 1918. The collection of his poems came out in 1919. The photo is from For Remembrance: Soldier Poets Who Have Fallen in the War. The photograph is in the public domain.

*Poems ~ excepts from Marlborough and Other Poems by Charles Hamilton SorelyIt would appear that this book is currently in the public domain. You can read the entire book on or download it from Internet Archives HERE.