The spoken intro to the song is the "true story" although the event in the song really did happen. Written by John McCutcheon for his 1984 Album, Winter Solstice, it tells the story of the Christmas truce of1 914 through the voice of Francis Tolliver a fictitious British soldier.
While touring in Europe, he played in Denmark and he tells the story.
And every time I played there was this little bevy of very old, and we're talking old, German men, who'd come across the border and showed up at my shows and they usually came in late, came trottin' up the aisle and there usually wasn't a seat left, so they just stood there at the edge of the stage and watched me, without expression, turned around and left when I was done. The last set and I'm watching these guys turn around to leave as I finish my last song and I'm thinkin', who are these guys?
So I set down my autoharp or whatever I was playing, jumped off the edge of the stage and ran up the aisle and caught the last guy. I said you guys have been really sweet showing up all these places but... what's the deal?
And the guy says, we're here because of that song. I said what song? You know, that song, the one that's on the radio. That's how we heard about you and about this festival. Because all our lives our family, our friends have told us we were crazy, couldn't possibly have happened to us. But then we heard your song on the radio and we said, see, see, 'cause we were there. And they were there 75 years ago this last Christmas eve when the events this song commemorates happened.
Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung
Our families back in England were toasting us that day
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, "Now listen up, me boys!" each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
"He's singing bloody well, you know!" my partner says to me
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war
As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was "Stille Nacht." "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky
"There's someone coming toward us!" the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore
My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I, I've learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we're the same
© 1984 John McCutcheon - All rights reserved