This is another one I thought of on my way home from a rehearsal, this time of One for the Road. I was trying to think of a piece for someone who had requested something similar to Colonel Tonic for themselves (I didn't perform Colonel Tonic myself - I'm not old or fat enough!). This was all I could come up with, and I didn't think that anyone but myself would be able to deliver it in suitably deadpan tones. I performed it myself at the Christmas Concert Party that was staged just a few days after One for the Road finished. It didn't go down as well as Colonel Tonic had.
ENTER a gravely-suited GENTLEMAN with a newspaper. He walks to CENTRE STAGE FRONT and speaks to the audience
Gentleman Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to share with you an amusing report concerning the Christmas celebrations at the Front, submitted by the Times correspondent assigned to Ypres with our boys.
He begins to read from the newspaper
Gentleman Ypres, December the 28th, 1915. The Christmas celebrations at the Front this year have been observed in much the same fashion as last year. Heavy fighting on both sides, especially artillery action, on the Christmas Eve, followed by a mutual cease-fire and truce on Christmas Day itself. This seasonal peace has enabled Army celebrations to be entirely traditional - the Officers and Sergeants served the Men with a Christmas dinner, while the top-brass laid plans for a Boxing Day attack. The Quartermaster-General’s office had managed to arrange for extra supplies of seasonal fare to be delivered to some regiments, particularly the 56th Heavy Regiment of Artillery, who were “well-pleased” with their extra consignment of sprouts. The Quartermaster-General, when asked to comment on this, replied, “I know, I heard the report.” A source in the Quartermaster-General’s Office informed me that the 23rd Heavy Cavalry had received extra carrots, and the entire Machine Gun Corps had got extra supplies of peas. A friend of the source quipped “well, that’s their ammunition taken care of for the next month, then.” When asked to comment on this piece of information, the Quartermaster-General said “the 56th would have had their ammunition sorted as well, if the cabbages had arrived!” He went on to say that getting these unorthodox projectiles across to the enemy at speed would pose no problem, as the Spanish government had kindly supplied 4 tons of Mexican Jumping Beans to the army - although, in order to maintain neutrality, the Germans had also received 4 tons of Mexican Jumping Beans, and our troops are now worried about the prospect of facing ballistic sausages and sauerkraut.
As happened last year, large international friendly football matches of the England-Germany kind took place between the troops. Due to the regimental nature of the matches, uneven teams of 300 or more were common, but no-one complained about this breach of sporting etiquette. Across the front, the total number of goals scored was 976, conceded 863. England won five, drew one, lost four. One of the wins was attributed to a Lance-Corporal of a Derbyshire Regiment, who cunningly filled a football with Christmas Pudding mixture. It is believed an entire German Regiment will be out of action for a month with injured feet, and the Lance-Corporal concerned has been awarded the Military Medal.
Scottish, Welsh and Irish Regiments did not take part in the football matches, as they were employed elsewhere on the front, making sure the French celebrations did not get out of hand. These, like the celebrations by our own troops, were in the traditional manner. It is not known how many Germans died in these festivities, but it is believed they will be significantly under strength for several months. General Petain was heard to comment “There’s nothing wrong with nipping over the border and knifing a few Germans every Christmas. After all, it’s cheaper than buying the meat!” General Haig was unavailable for comment on his French counterpart’s attitude.
In the evening, the 34th Cheshire Foot Regiment staged a concert party for troops from both armies. It was attended in equal number by British and German troops, and was very well received by our lads. The Germans seemed to have some trouble with the language - either that or they didn’t understand the jokes. There was, surprisingly, nothing in bad taste or offensive in the material, despite the hasty nature of the production. Indeed, most of the jokes were at the expense of the French, who were not invited to the show. Admittedly, the punchlines usually involved a German as well as a Frenchman, but I’m sure they all took it in good part. At the end of the show, the performers playfully pelted the departing Germans with hundreds of cabbages, only some of which were picked up, and even fewer returned. A few stray missiles hit our lads, who forwarded them on to the Germans, or returned them to the duckboard stage. The Military Police were in attendance to stop things getting out of hand, and at this point they must have felt their intervention was needed. The resulting bout of fisticuffs hospitalised over 100 men, a significant number of whom were Germans, and a large proportion of the remainder were the Provost-Marshal’s men.
© Brian Wakeling