Somewhere In France

December 10, 2016

I’m having a bit of a problem getting into the Christmas spirit again this year; I think I’ve had my fill of the commercialization of Christmas; I’ve had my fill of politics; or maybe, I’ve hit the wall over everyone who wants God out of their lives and our country.

As I thought about this, I remembered a letter that my dad wrote on Christmas Eve in 1944 while serving in the Army during WWII. Dad wrote home every day he was away from home and family. I am blessed to have most of these letters, carefully saved by his sisters over the years as well as their response to him which my dad also saved.

Last night, I found his letter written from “Somewhere in France.” The soldiers were not allowed to give their exact location lest the letters fall into the hands of the enemy and reveal the army’s position. My dad was 33 years old at the time he wrote this. Even in war-torn France, at the height of the Nazi invasion of that country, thoughts were only of Christmas.

I’d like to share dad’s letter and a letter written by his sister Stella on Christmas Day, 1945. I should note here that everyone in my dad’s family had a nickname. Because of Danish naming traditions, it was not unusual to find many men, and women, with the same name in the same town. It became necessary to give someone a nickname to differentiate between individuals. There were ten siblings in my father’s family and Christmas was always special.

So, in my dad’s family, Ellsworth (my father) became “Roly,” his twin sister Margaret became “Tootsie.” Dad’s cousin Roger became “Ooky” and so on. How the nicknames were decided on I have no idea, but I digress.

From the battlefields of WWII, Christmas Eve, 1944, a different perspective.

24 December, 1944 – Somewhere in France

Dearest Sisters and All:

I know it will be some time before you read this. It’s Christmas Eve in a troubled world and we seem to have most of the trouble right here. It’s been rather a funny day all day with no one knowing quite why. I have very little time to get this off to you and am sort of mixing pleasure with work. Let me try and describe to you what it’s like here tonight.

First of all, it’s a clear cold night with temperature down around ten above. It has been very cold all day, but the sun has been shining and that helps some. There is a bright moon shining and the night is beautiful but ominous. We are again on the move and the war seems to stop for nothing. I thought maybe we would be able to get a little rest today and tomorrow, but those wishes have passed long ago. There are too many others that interfere with our plans. It goes to prove that the best laid plans of mice and men can go astray.

Tonight, we are in an old fort about two hundred years old. It has been pretty-well demolished and our quarters are in one of the bays as they are called. It is a brick building that is heavily fortified. The roof is round, similar to that of a barn, but the top has vegetation over it so that it cannot be seen from the air. The whole thing is high on a hill overlooking the channel. There are few ships in the harbor this night, but I suppose there are plenty of men who are on them tonight somewhere.

Beneath the old fort are endless tunnels and it is quite safe from air attacks. I wouldn’t venture to say how many of us are here tonight, but there are plenty and all with the same wish that I have. There was no last-minute mail today and consequently, no more packages have arrived. I was sure there would be a letter from home, but none came and you are not to blame.

Around eight o’clock, the bugler who, by the way, is very good, played Christmas Carols. The mellow notes of his trumpet floated out over the still air to the strains of Silent Night – which it is; Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Star of the East (Rise up Shepherds and Follow), Oh Fir Tree Dark, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day and Auld Lang Syne. It was beautiful and it seemed to me as if the whole world had stopped to listen.

There are no Merry Christmas’s here as there is a grim threat all around and everyone is much too concerned. Voices float out of the bays on the evening air and they seem to be muffled as though you weren’t to speak above a whisper and that this night is hallowed.

Usually there is much bustle and ado all around as the troops sing and browse around more or less when there is nothing better to do. Tonight, they are all quiet and sit around in little groups talking in hushed tones. Many of them were home perhaps only a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of them haven’t been home for several years.

Now and then, you hear the strains of an old carol, sung very softly by a group around a fire and it seems to hang in the air. There’s a vast emptiness here as though the world had forgotten all that it has learned in the last century.

There is no peace here, except this night and all seems to be peace. There’s nothing joyous about it, but the stillness of it makes you wonder. Would it that all guns were silenced this night for all time to come.

At present I am alone and have been reading some of the letters that came some time ago. They are old ones, but I always seem to find something that I missed in the first reading.

Last night I read a book. It took most of the night but it was worth it. I wonder if any of you have read this same one? It was “Blessed Are the Meek.” The story concerned the fifth Crusade and was very well written. It is a story of the life of St. Francis. I had never read anything about him before and though the book doesn’t compare with “The Robe,” it is well told and interesting. I wish there were some way that I could get a copy of “The Prophet.” Do you know if they have published it in those pocket library series?

There isn’t much more to tell you of this night. I hope that you are all well and that there has been some joy in this night for all of you. I still have my packages and hope to enjoy them tomorrow. I will make a special effort to go through each of those I have received.

Stella’s letter has not been opened yet and I don’t know what has kept me from it. I know that I will appreciate them all and you have my whole-hearted thanks.

May God Bless every one of you and grant that one wish that I have and that is to be with you on this night next year.

Much Love to All,

Roly

In this age of privilege and excess, Stella’s Christmas Day letter reminds us all of what really matters at this time of year. The letter is written to my father and cc’d to his cousin Roger (Ooky).

CHRISTMAS DAY – Albert Lea, Minnesota, 1945

Dearest Roly and Roger,

It’s Christmas again and we wish you could be with us personally, but know that you are more in our thoughts today than ever; in fact, we won’t call it Christmas for us, other than the significance of the day, which we must never forget.

Imagine if you can the bustle, not over gifts, for they will be few this year, but in getting “mouths” fed. I suppose only Joe and Ossie (my dad’s brother Albert) will be home – Len no doubt will stay in Waseca this year since the Groves will no doubt have a get-together. Again, there will be no Christmas tree, just a wreath on the mantel. Roger, you saw it last year; it will be the same this year.

Somewhere in the kitchen a cat is hollering, I suppose its tail was stepped on! Then one, maybe “Little Feller” on the table, trying to hook the chicken as it is getting a final clean-up before going into the oven.

Ruby and Alta will take over the kitchen, as they usually do. We plan to eat about 5:00 so we won’t have to make two meals that day. Joe probably will “sneak” off to the Vets Club for a snifter or two; Tootsie will sleep; Hazel will be doing the upstairs work and I’ll be getting in on the tail end jobs, which I hate, such as seeing that the dust is off the “special” plates, etc., cutting apples for salad, cleaning celery, etc. Hart will be down to his folks for a few hours. Stan no doubt will be in California and won’t get home. And, of course, we’ll hear “I wonder what Ooky (Roger) and Roly are doing?”

Please, please God, let us have them with us next year at this time, so we can enjoy Christmas again, what a time we’ll have! We must plan for the biggest Christmas we’ve ever had when all of you get home – the kind Mom and Dad would have wanted for you – all of us happy.

So there you have a resume of what the day will be at home and believe me when I say you’ll be very close to us that day – more than ever before, and I do hope that you’ll be richer in thoughts of Christmas on foreign soil – the first time for Roger, the second for Roly.

Here is a lovely thought I’d like to leave with you today:

Reverently we will give thanks for the glory so dearly bought.

Gratefully our songs will rise to reach those who have not yet rejoined us.

Silently and prayerfully we will remember those who will never return (and here, thanks, thanks to Almighty God for sparing our Roly, our Stanley, our Roger and my Joe).

We here at home in the land we love, preserved, we hope forever and ever from the ravages of war, know that this year we have cause to keep Christmas sacred.

So, we return once more to the old ways and old customs, to the bounty that is ours as harvest days are over.

Again, our Christmas wreath will glisten; again, Merry Christmas will echo and re-echo as this year there is truly PEACE ON EARTH – GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN – for this is the year of VICTORY and PEACE!

I know this will be a different Christmas for you two, but just reach out and I know we will all be so close to you, and you must almost feel our presence on Christmas night.

About 5:00 P.M. go out and look for the star that is farthest East, and I’ll look at it too; that will bring us all together on Christmas Day again until we can be together and say Glade Juul, Noel, Noel, and last but not least MERRY CHRISTMAS TO TWO SWELL GUYS.

May God Bless you, keep you, and bring you back to us soon, oh very soon, but remember always, “The dead and the absent always stay, with those they love on Christmas Day.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Much, much Love,

Stella

Two thousand years ago, another family celebrated the first Christmas; the birth of Christ, God’s only Son. A gift to us from God.

A gift so momentous that it was announced by angels – “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Merry Christmas everyone!