A seasonal moment of filial respect – I went this week to see the premiere of ‘Christmas Truce‘, about the spontaneous truce in the trenches in 1914, for which my brother, Graeme Curry, wrote the narration (Jonathan Rathbone wrote the music). Disappointingly, there seem to be no eye-witness reports of the ‘football match’ – perhaps unsurprisingly, since no-man’s land was not renowned for its large flat spaces.
But the truth, from soldiers’ letters, seems more moving. On Christmas Eve, German troops started singing carols to the Allies, and then invited them to sing in turn. We even know the carols which they sang, some all but forgotten now, and after they had sung they met on Christmas Day in no-mans land to bury their dead and exchange gifts.
The piece tells the story of the truce through the eyes of a young (fictional) volunteer – a soldier’s tale, perhaps – and the carols, German and English, are woven into his story. The work is all but book-ended by two extracts from Edward Thomas, the Anglo-Welsh poet who volunteered in 1915, and was killed at the age of 39 in 1917. It ends, though, or did at the premiere in Walthamstow, with a recital of some of the names of the Great War dead on the local war memorial.
Graeme and Jonathan had hoped to write the piece last year, to mark the centenary of the Armistice. In the meantime, the last two survivors of the Great War have died, which made the memorial seem more appropriate.