Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas and a war---nearly 100 years ago

From the Harper's archives...

The following is a true tale. This is not a thing heard of and lightly repeated and half believed, but witnessed in these late years by living eyes, and, in the second case, by my own. . . .

December 18–19, 1914, was a night of tragedy in the British army. Forgotten now — buried in the sancta of regimental records, it was only a demonstration — of what, of whom, of how much or of how little — that need be no inquiry here. And it was only on the front of two divisions that the troops advanced at nightfall, artillery firing a quarter-of-an-hour’s bombardment, all the earth shaking, and a sprinkle of musketry shattering the dark. For the most part, the Germans sat quietly waiting while the shells whined overhead to their support lines; only when figures loomed up in their wire did they open fire. The attack wavered, but the survivors came with a rush to the lip of the trench where for several moments a silent, tremendous struggle took place between bayonet, rifle butt, revolver, and physical strength. Some lay where they fell under the enemy parapet, some dragged themselves back and died in the open, some were made prisoners. Here and there a party of ten or a dozen British fought their way into the German trench and hung on till daylight; then, upon order given, withdrew. It was left to daylight to reveal — as daylight faithfully reveals — the truth of tragedy, and the price to pay.

Read the whole story.


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