“Good Morning Fritz!” I call out into cold, yet still, December morning air.
The trench water at my feet is freezing. All of the rats are tucked up inside the dugouts where the other men of my unit stir in the crisp morning air. Bulked up with a warm wool overcoat, rifle in hand, soup bowl upon my head, I’m standing behind the parapet, calling out to my enemy in the middle of a war.
“Good Morning Fritz!” I repeat, figuring he didn’t hear me the first time.
There’s been no firing from either side for the past few minutes. Most of us just aren’t that interested in shooting right now. It’s too cold to bother with a weapon. Instead of aiming my rifle, I’m hoping to talk to one of the krauts.
“GOOD MORNING FRITZ!” Booming across no-man’s land, my echo ricochets back to me.
From across no-man’s land a faint voice calls out “Good morning.”
I got him to reply, and in English no less!!!
“HOW ARE YOU TODAY?” I ask, hoping that he’ll keep talking.
Again, faintly, as if nervous to say anything, but compelled to respond, “Alright.”
There is a real guy over there.
“COME OVER AND GET SOME FAGS!” I offer, thinking that he’d enjoy a smoke as much as the rest of us.
A moment goes by, then another. Just as I’m about to repeat myself I hear, “No, I will be shot.”
That’s a legitimate concern. We are at war after all, and there is a no-man’s land to cross.
Calling out to my boys, I declare “Nobody fire, I want to see if we can meet this guy.”
A few men look out the dugouts toward me smiling. Most ignore me, going about their quick dry shave or button polishing.
“NO YOU WON’T!” I declare.
I doubt that convinced him, but I won’t shoot him, and there’s no one else with a rifle even at the parapet right now.
More time passes before the faint reply returns to my ears, “Fear.”
“COME OVER!” I call out.
Instantly, he replies, “YOU COME OVER!” This time he’s speaking with confidence.
I’m not going over there. Are you kidding! Dashing across no-man’s land to the enemy trench for a fag is not worth it.
Turner calls out to me from within his dugout, “Meet the kraut halfway if you want to see him so much.”
Yeah, that works.
“HOW ABOUT WE MEET HALFWAY?” I offer, figuring at worst we both get shot.
“OK” he replies.
“Now you have to go.” Turner gets out before laughing.
Yes, he’s right. Now I have to meet this kraut halfway across no-man’s land.
“Cover me, will you?” I call to Turner.
He looks up at me, “You’re on your own Newton. You started this, you finish it.”
With a smile on my face, I slowly put down my rifle, placing it gently on the duck board of the trench.
At least the water at the base of the trench is frozen so it won’t fall in.
Looking up at the parapet I pause for a moment.
This is it.
Turner, still watching from the dugout yells loudly “HE’S COMING, DON’T SHOOT!”
At that, I climb the ladder. At first I raise my head above the trench wall.
No one shot me!
Then the rest of my body.
I feel like a million eyes are upon me.
Behind me men are starting to stir. Many are beginning to come out of their dugouts to watch.
I’d imagine at least a few are expecting me to be shot any second. I know I am.
From across no-man’s land I see a single German soldier rising out of his trench as well.
“HEY FRITZ!” I call out as I place both of my hands halfway up, exposing one empty open palm, and a pack of fags in the other.
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” He calls in reply, one empty palm exposed to me, with a mass of something in a paper wrapper in the other.
Walking toward each other over shell holes, broken bodies of former comrades in arms, and through shattered barbed-wire barricades, Fritz and I keep our eyes on each other rather than the ground.
Do I give him my real name?
“Anthony Willibaugh” I declare. “What’s yours?”
“Gerhard Neufeld” he replies, less than 10 meters from me.
As we approach I can see that he’s holding a mass of something in wax paper in his left hand. He recognizes me looking at it.
“Munster Cheese” he offers, holding it out to me from just 1 meter.
“Yes, please!” I reply. “Fag?”
“That’s why I’m here.” He declares.
He begins opening the wrapped cheese as I fumble with the fag box. Taking out two fags, I hold them out to him. At the same time, he has broken off a large chunk of cheese, which he offers me with his right hand.
“Thank you!” Gerhard says to me, as I say it right back to him. He takes one of the fags from my hand. I clasp onto the chunk of cheese with my left.
“I’m going to reach into my coat for my lighter” I inform him.
We can’t have any misunderstandings now.
“Of course,” he replies.
As I reach into my pocket I sense the presence of others approaching. Looking up, I can see three Germans coming toward me from behind Gerhard.
What is this, are they going to jump me?
Turning to see what’s behind me in case I need to run, I see four of my boys, including Turner, approaching just a few meters away. Behind them, at least five more guys are making their way out of the trench.
I look back at the Germans again. Each is holding a small object wrapped in paper. As they approach they unwrap the paper, exposing sausage, dark bread, and even a bottle of wine.
My guys come up and start shaking hands with and talking to the Germans.
They’re not so bad.
On December 11, 1914 the first truce took place between British and German soldiers facing each other across no-man’s land of the Western Front. What started out as simple baiting of the Germans by a British soldier turned into a sincere exchange of food and cigarettes. When the opposing soldiers met they realized they could speak English to each other, and that they had much in common. Most were young men away from home for the first time. They avoided talking about the war, but showed pictures of girlfriends, shared their food, and smoked for about a half-hour. When they were done they went back to their respective trenches, at which time the war resumed. This little truce was the harbinger of the Christmas Truce phenomenon that took places at many locations across the front on December 25, 1914. When soldiers met soldiers they realized they were all in the same predicament. When the high ranking officers on both sides heard about the truces they ordered artillery to fire and for the men to never be allowed to converse with the enemy again. This was the last time in the War when soldiers on both sides realized and agreed they had nothing to fight about.