The army in Flanders in 1914 was still the regular professional army, serving soldiers and reservists who had seen service in India and the Empire, men whose training and fire-discipline at Mons had convinced the Germans they were facing machine guns rather than SMLEs. It is not surprising therefore that this was the cohort that co-operated in the Christmas truce, rather than the later Kitchener armies, for no one hates war more than a professional soldier. The Germans (as is usual) started it; they lit candles and sung carols in the front line trenches, their artillery refrained from firing. We responded in kind.
For a thousand years families in England have gazed into the flames of a Christmas fire with their thoughts reaching to their men gone to war; on Crusade in the Holy Land, somewhere in France, at sea, in Central Europe, the scented Empire, the Middle East. Afghanistan. And as those men's thoughts turn to their own families and firesides as they watch over their rifle sights, as John McCutcheon sings, they wonder whose families they are aiming at.
As my eyes scan the pixellated effect formed by hundreds of passport photographs of the fallen of the recent wars, with far too many boys amongst them, my heart finds it impossible to find the forgiveness for 'Bloody' Blair and his war-stained coterie that my head requires, and I must still swallow hard my anger and think instead of the Prince of Peace. Too many homes this Christmas will be missing a son, a father or a sister.
May we all have a peaceful and charitable Christmas.