The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy and David Roberts

As a child I became a bit obsessed by the mythical sounding football match that took place in the trenches of the first world war when it featured in the video for Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace. Now, in the centenary year we’ve had Sainsburys flogging groceries off the back of it. But somehow, whether it’s Macca or a supermarket appropriating the events of that awful Christmas, the message shines through untarnished.

The Moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.’

This reprinted edition of Carol Ann Duffy and David Robert’s 2011 retelling of The Christmas Truce suffers from no such dubious commercial associations. It tells the story through simple, evocative poetry that will bring the moment alive for young readers getting to grips with the first world war.

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,

sparkled and winked.

A boy from Stroud stared at a star

to meet his mother’s eyesight there.’

The famous football match is only referenced in passing, but we do get to find out a lot more about the events of that unique night and day. It begins with a message from the German trenches where, ‘Christmas trees in their dozens shone, candlelit on the parapets, and they started to sing, all down the German lines.’

A powerful German rendition of Stille Nacht provokes an emotional response from the Britsh and French soldiers, and soon they meet surrounded by the fallen. It is here they have their game of football, but also chase hares and exchange gifts: ‘Tickler’s jam for Cognac, sausages, cigars, beer, sauerkraut.’

David Roberts illustrations are perfect, particularly his depictions of the rosy cheeked soldiers, all bristly, bloodshot and careworn, but still with the spark of human kindness that the conflict has yet to extinguish.

As we approach the centenary of the epochal Christmas why not share this, perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the season’s spirit with your children. And spare a thought for the young men for whom this wondrous moment was tragically only fleeting. You can probably even buy it from Sainsbury’s. If you must.

The Christmas Truce is published by Picador. It also features in the Anthology Only Remembered edited by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Ian Beck. Or you can read the complete poem here.


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