Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Christmas Truce

Gather round everyone I want to tell you a story. It's the story of The Finest Christmas Dinner in the World by Francis Schroeder.

About ten o'clock on Christmas Eve, some five or six middle aged men, one or two of whom walked with canes, would cross the court and climb the narrow oak stairs to the green door with the brass knocker that marked Mr. Cockburn's flat. (pronounced Coburn) In later years they generally brought a few younger men with them...

There would be a clean cloth and a miniature Christmas tree on the gate-leg table. A decanter of sherry and some biscuits on the sideboard, and some sprigs of holly tucked behind the framed engraving of Lord Blackstone. There was always a coal fire in the grate and the brass work gleemed like gold. Mr. Cockburn's dinner jacket was a bit greenish at the elbows, but he bustled about hospitably.

The young men warmed their tails at the fire, sipped the sherry, and generally longed acutely for a really dry martini, ice cold, at the Savoy. The older men talked about the weather, and good old Stanley Baldwin, until Mr. Cockburn produced a chafing dish, polished as brightly as the fender, and some rounds of toasted French bread, and served the following dish:

3 cups boiled rice
1-8oz. can American salmon
4 med. onions, chopped
2 small German cervelat sausages, sliced thin
1/2 wineglass brandy
1 tbs. butter
1 cup water
salt, pepper, dry mustard to taste

Mr. Cockburn dressed the chafing dish carefully, then simmered the whole thing until it was the consistency of a thick stew, and served it to his guests on the toasted bread.

The young men approached this mess manfully, and as they ate, they heard a story. It was always the same story, and it came in snatches first from one, and then from another of the older men. It was the story of the Christmas Truce of 1916

That story has since been told and printed many times. It happened along the Somme, scene of some of the bitterest trench warfare of the entire war. The week before Christmas the interminable rains seemed to stop. The weather was cold, but clear. The wind, as usual was from the East, blowing from Germany toward France.

Nobody knows just how it started. Some say it was the sound of some Bavarian troops singing Christmas carols on the fire step. Others say it was a single foolhardy soldier who climbed on the parapet with his arms full of cigarettes. At all events, suddenly like wildfire it spread up and down the lines.

Laughing, shouting, men went over the top barehanded, to meet at the wire and help each other through. For mile after mile the flicker of lighting matches gleamed like fireflies the length of No Man's Land. There was considerable clinking of canteen cups. For a little while it seemed as though the High Commands would have to give up the war.

Gerald Cockburn was 40 even then, a messenger attached to the Royal Engineers. He happened to be in the front lines on Christmas Eve delivering some sealed orders to a company commander, when the Christmas Truce caught up with him.

What's all the bloody row?" said the young Captain looking up from his dugout table, and the next thing they were both in the thick of it. Gerald Cockburn found himself squatting on the edge of a shell hole with his back against a willow stump. A morose Irish corporal was scouring the inside of a trench helmet carefully balancing it on a fire built on a tin can. A pimply faced German boy was excitedly waving a string of sausages. Somebody had a bottle of brandy, somebody else had a handful of rice. Cockburn remembered four onions in his greatcoat pocket, and there was plenty of bread. When the stew was half ready, a passer-by proffered a tin of plum and apple jam, but the German objected to this violently and he was supported.

The Christmas Truce didn't last long, of course. In two or three hours word got back that the war was getting out of hand, and from miles back, on both sides, the heavy howitzers opened up. It never happened again, and we're fighting a very different kind of German today. Still Mr. Cockburn and his friends continued to hold their Christmas party, and tell the story of the Christmas Truce over again, remaining heavily humorous about the manufacture of their special stew. The young men generally finished their plates and enjoyed it. For there was another spirit beside the brandy in Mr. Cockburn's dinner, the spirit of Christmas.

This article was found in the December 1943 issue of American Cookery Magazine; editor Imogene Wolcott. For some reason, it seems my issue has been misplaced for the time being. According to my notes, the year stated in the article is 1916 but I have to wonder whether this was a typo as the year cited in most internet articles is 1914.

There will be one more Cookbook Wednesday posting this week. I suppose I got my days, weeks mixed up:) I totally understand if everyone is doing the holiday hustle and bustle and will not be able to join us for Cookbook Wednesday. It will be the last Cookbook Wednesday for a while unless of course, you "guys" would prefer it goes on. It is most certainly up for a vote, lol...Louise 

1. The Christmas Truce
2. Operation Plum Puddings
3. Christmas Truce @ The History Channel
4. The Christmas Truce

25 Nibbles:

Helene Dsouza said...

Interesting story Louise.
I wish you a merry christmas! :)

Mae Travels said...

The history channel has a brief summary of the Christmas Truce: http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/christmas-truce-of-1914
Your story is a very nice choice. Interesting that they didn't repeat it again during WWI. So that's 100 years ago exactly. Sadly, 100 years of frequent war with constant hopes for peace, I think one would have to say.

Dottie said...

Dear Louise,
How awesome is this story! I have never heard of this before, you are so wonderful for finding this story and posting it. I always learn so much from your posts. I really enjoyed the story of "The Christmas Truce." Thank you for sharing it. The recipe sounds very interesting. As far as Cookbook Wednesday goes I personally think you should keep it going. You have so many cookbooks and I am sure stories to share. I would love to join in but these last few weeks have been so very busy. Between Christmas and my not feeling well, I found no time to join in. But if you keep it, at least for a while longer I will find something to share after the holidays. My wish for you dear friend is Blessings in every way for a Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year for you, Marion, and your family.
Enjoy! Dottie :) x

~ Nee ~ said...

Hello my dear friend Louise ,
What a Christmas story , I enjoyed it tremendous , what a great story to share on this joyful occasion . If only the spirit of the season could be carried all through the year everyone would be singing happy day throughout the world .
I know you are swamped , time just seem to fly , finish shopping for the awesome foursome , that dang flu set me back , but with the new year I will come out swinging (giggling) . Keep an I on your e-mail , slow like a turtle but it's on the way . Merry Christmas to you , Marion and your family from mine . l love you a lot dear friend .
Thanks so very much for sharing and all your help through the years . ~~Nee~~ :-D

Sonia De Macedo said...

Wow, I'd never heard of this tale before, thank you. Though their Christmas dinner does not sound appetising for me. I hate seafood, the smell, texture, everything. Even the word itself puts me off bahahaha!


Marjie said...

I love the story of the Christmas Truce. It was detailed in yesterday's WSJ, Review section, of course.

I'm in favor of continuing Cookbook Wednesday, but you already knew that. I'm going to try to get a post together this week...we'll see how that goes.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

The menu does remind us that it's the spirit of the meal that matters most. Happy Winter Solstice, Louise!

grace said...

i can't say i'd like that dish very much, but that was quite a different time. :)

Gloria Baker said...

Yours post always are fun Louise!!

Merry Christmas dear Louise!

Alida said...

Wow it was quite different in the past! Lovely read indeed.
I'd like to wish you a beautiful Christmas dear Louise. I hope you will have a great day full of laughter, joy and with loads of good food... but I have no doubt about that! Merry Christmas to Merion too! xxx

Zoe said...

Hi Louise,

Interesting to know this is how the people in 1914 or 1943 appreciate Christmas...

One more post to go before Christmas??? I think I need to have my break from today onward :p

Merry Christmas and happy 2015 to you and your friends. I wish that you will have a wonderful holiday, enjoying the warmth of your family cuddles. Cheers!


Zoe said...

Sorry Louise... I just realised that I did a typo error just down... can you please ignore my previous comment and accept the next one :p Sorry!

Zoe said...

Hi Louise,

Interesting to know this is how the people in 1914 or 1943 appreciate Christmas...

One more post to go before Christmas??? I think I need to have my break from today onward :p

Merry Christmas and happy 2015 to you and your family. I wish that you will have a wonderful holiday, enjoying the warmth of your family cuddles. Cheers!


Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said...

A christmas story to add even more to the festive season, thank you my friend :D
I enjoyed it!

Happy Holidays!
Choc Chip Uru

Linda said...

Merry Christmas ~~Louise~~....
Linda :o)

SissySees said...

I love that story, and also vote for continuing Cookbook Wednesday. I don't know whether I'll get to it tomorrow or not, but I do enjoy it.

Merry Christmas!

Storybook Woods said...

Merry Christmas Louise. Wonderful story and recipe!! Clarice

Geraldine Saucier said...

Love this story. Merry Christmas to you and your family:)

kumars kitchen said...

A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS LOUISE! A beautiful story...and very unique recipe,thanks :-)

~~louise~~ said...

Glad you enjoyed it Helene. A Merry Christmas to you also:)

~~louise~~ said...

Thanks for leaving that link Mae. I will be sure and check it out. I would have to agree:) I actually posted this story way back in 2008 before anyone ever visited my blog, lol...Thanks for stopping by Mae.

~~louise~~ said...

So glad you enjoyed it, Dottie. Cookbook Wednesday will continue for the month of January. I do hope you will get a chance to join us!!! A very Merry Christmas to You and Yours Dottie. May it be Magical!!!

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Nee,
I'm so glad you enjoyed this story. Things have calmed down here, finally, lol...I'm sure there is much hustle and bustle at your house too. A very Merry Christmas to you and your family, Nee. Marion said to remind you to wiggle those toes. She aso sends Christmas Hugs way down there too, lol...

~~louise~~ said...

So glad you enjoyed the story, Sonia. I like seafood but I know quite a few people who would react exactly like you, lol...

I Wilkerson said...

What a nice story Louise--I had never heard that before. Thanks for sharing!