The Way We Were with John Taylor: The Christmas truce

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Christmas - for many people it’s a time of Christina celebration. But for the ‘touchy feely’ it is a time of ‘Winterval’.

It’s a funny old game - a devout way of life for the believers, or the bandwagon of choice for all manner of oddballs by which they can manipulate the superstitious and weak-minded.

In wartime religion seems to be always used, with both sides convinced that their particular deity will ensure victory. This must be very confusing for the losing side, and of course it is used to justify all manner of human depravities.

But in the First World War the true human spirit became evident with the famous Christmas Truce, the validity of which seems to have been in real doubt.

Here is an extract from a local letter sent by a soldier to his grandmother in Bletchley: “We were in the trenches for Christmas, and had the funniest Christmas I have ever had.

“On Christmas Eve we had orders not to fire until midnight Christmas Day unless the Germans did, so we shouted across to the Germans that we would not fire unless they did, and they shouted the same back.

“On Christmas Day they shouted across and wished us a happy Christmas and, of course, we did the same, and we both got out of our trenches and walked along the top.

“During the morning we went halfway across to the German trenches and beckoned to them to come over to us, which, after a little hesitation, they did.

“When they arrived we shook hands and exchanged cigarettes, cigars, buttons, money and anything we could get hold of... We found them to be quite a gentlemanly lot of chaps.”

Such letters give a poignant identity to those who were there in the war, and who often didn’t return, which is particularly noteworthy in this centenary year - a sacrifice epitomised by the Unknown Warrior.

But perhaps in the year of remembrance, and in this scientific age, he too could now be given an identity, through DNA testing.