National Geographic : 1919 Dec
CELEBRATING CHRIST the man who had led in battle wishing those of us who had served under him the best of luck and a Merry Christmas. He told us to remember the day, to keep it fresh in our minds as one Christ mas that had been different. He closed with a word about our dead-those who had died, many hundreds of them, our own friends, not because their sacrifice had been necessary at all, but through lack of proper training and preparation in the years before. Every man who had faced death in battle knew that the Gen eral spoke the simple truth. A CHRISTMAS DINNER SURPASSING ALL DREAMS In contrast to our usual bully-beef and potatoes, this Christmas dinner far sur passed anything that we had dreamed of. Turkey-yes, real American turkey-was there; mashed potatoes, tomatoes, stewed corn, celery, apple pie-it would have been a credit to the best chef in New York-yet every bit of it had been fetched at unbelievable trouble all the way from Paris; then cooked in an open shed, where the rain dripped down through the holes in the roof upon the small field range that smoked and sputtered in the mud below. Cigars and cigarettes had reached us from the "Y," together with a fine supply of candy. No one can appreciate just what that Christmas dinner really meant to us un less he realizes what had gone before. It sounds like the usual dinner at home, but one must remember that our surroundings were very far from usual. Aside from any of the fighting, any of the horrors of Montfaucon, Nantillois, Wadonville, Hill 378, and the rest, this Christmas dinner was the very first meal my men had been able to eat in four months with a place to sit down together and a roof to cover them. Since September they had stood in line, day after day, under constant rain, wait ing for each meal, usually well soaked and muddy. When their kits were filled they had still stood, of necessity, in the rain, or found what uncomfortable shelter they could beneath some leaking shack or dugout pent. Now, on Christmas Day, we were in a warm room, sitting at tables and a real feast laid out before us. MAS ON THE MEUSE 537 There was no thought of a mess line. The cooks and kitchen police, though it meant far more work for them, would not hear of that. Volunteers hurried in with the food hot off the field range and served it to us at the tables. IN TIIE SPIRIT OF TIlE OLD SONG It was really an old-fashioned feast, taking the late afternoon and a good part of the evening before coming to an end. Then it was that Tara came into play, finding his long-lost soul, as though it never had fled beneath the scourge of shrapnel and H. E. and endless rain. The more we hammered away at him, the looser grew his keys, until at last only a few notes stuck together at a time. 'Harry Lauder," "Where the River Shan non Flows," even "Rosy O'Grady," all the old songs of home and Christmas were sung over and over again. An oc casional clog or jig, got up offhand, added to the fun. The players took turns, but Tara held out to the last, his blackened keys clicking and clacking away at a great rate, while all his mysterious insides jumped and jiggled about, exposed to public view in a scandalous way. Like everything else, Christmas came to an end at last. The mess hall was de serted and Tara left leaning against the wall once more, as mute as his famous namesake. The trench stoves burned a while, then smoked themselves out. In the morning we had work before us, lots of it. Sudden orders had come in for a march to distant billets. Two days after Christmas we made packs and early in the morning marched away. The mess hall had been used just once. "C'est la guerre !" That was the last we ever saw of Reville ; but the picture of our Christmas Day there in the rain and mud of that shell-torn hollow is one that will never fade. It proved, for one thing, that it takes a lot to down the doughboy. It takes more than war and hardship and a longing for home, since in the face of all these, from the little tree at dawn and the carols on to the last cracked note from Tara, we had held our sports and made our feast with the best of them, as the old song says, "keeping our Christmas merry still !"