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Gifts of War: A Novelby Mackenzie Ford
Synopses & Reviews
Had it not been for the war, Christmas 1914 would have been straight out of a fairy tale. On 24 December the weather changed abruptly. Along the Front it turned bitterly cold, and the sun that shone all afternoon was too weak to unfreeze the puddles of muddy water that stretched everywhere. Rats and rabbits skittered on the ice, and even the lice--as dug in as we were, in our hair and clothing--seemed lethargic in the cold conditions. It was a better day than most for scratching. That night a thin cloud cover formed but the temperature didn't ease up and a light snow fell, dusting the desolate landscape with a fine layer of crystals. The branches of dead trees--what trees remained standing--became lit in an unnatural way, rather like actors onstage are lit from reflected light below. What was beginning to be familiar terrain suddenly took on a strange, eerie appearance and I remember wondering whether I had, in fact, been shot and killed and was now looking onto the other side--a version of hell that had indeed frozen over.
But no, the eeriness was all too real. That night, as midnight approached, when it was already Christmas by their time, but not with us, we heard movement in the German trenches. Where we were, they were about eighty yards away--no more--so sounds carried. First one, then another small fir tree was hoisted on to the lip of their trenches, lit by candles. One of our sharpshooters fired at one of the trees, and knocked it back down out of sight. This normally would have brought a burst of answering fire from the Germans, but not this time. All was quiet. I barked an order, the sharpshooter made no attempt to fire at the second tree, and we waited. After a delay, there was a small commotion on the German side and another candelit tree was positioned on the lip of their trench. This time we left it alone.
Again we waited. Some minutes afterward we heard the strains of a mouth organ, a trembling, unassertive--even vulnerable--sound, which only just carried across the distance. Its tone was plaintive, melancholy. The musician played a few bars and then voices joined in. The song, which I recognized, was Die Wacht am Rhein, The Watch on the Rhine, based on a nineteenth-_century German poem. The clouds had gone by now and the Front had a stark beauty in the clear moonlight. On our side we had all but forgotten the cold.
As the song ended, one of our men shouted, Guten singing, Fritz or something very like it. We all laughed and cheered. After a short silence, the mouth organ started up again, and the Germans gave us Stille Nacht, Silent Night, which of course allowed us the opportunity to join in with English words. What a scene Two groups of men, in ditches eighty yards apart, who hours before had been doing their level best to slaughter one another, singing in unison. Well, almost.
Everyone sensed that this was something historic. It was one of those moments in life when everyone--everyone--raised his game, and no one who was there will ever forget it.
I was twenty-_three then, and a second lieutenant in the Forty-_seventh Gloucestershire Rifles. I was born and grew up in Edgewater, a tiny Cotswold hamlet not far from Stroud. My school career had its moments--mostly wrong moments. I was good at languages but that was about it. I was caught smoking twice and fighting twice. These fights weren't brawls but midni
When British soldier Hal Montgomery is invalided back to England during World War I, he carries out the promise he made to a German soldier and passes on a message to the man's English girlfriend, only to fall in love with her.
A vivid tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue, Gifts of War is a remarkable novel that explores what made War World I so tragic and revolutionary.
During theChristmas Truce of 1914, Hal Montgomery makes a pact with a German soldier that will change his life--he promises to find his enemy's English girlfriend, Sam, and let her know her fiance isalive. But things take an unexpected turn when Hal falls in love with Sam himself. As their romance blossoms, she shares her most private confidence: Her newborn son is of German lineage, information that threatens herreputation and her job as a schoolteacher. Fearful that he will lose Sam, Hal holds tight to the secret that brought them together. But fashioning a family life proves precarious when it is founded on alie.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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