Its Christmas time, 1943, in Ortona, Italy. Capt. William
H. Melhuish of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada is writing a letter
to his mother.
It must have been about midnight, he writes, when
I was awaked from a restless sleep. The guns again! Their deep-throated
roar, the whistle of shell overhead, the whoomph at
the end of their journeythat was nothing new. But there was
something else in the air, a most unusual sound. It took me several
seconds to realize I was not dreaming carols! Good old Christmas
carolsboy, did they sound great!
The average soldier of the line gets little opportunity,
if any, to hear music, and here were carols coming out of nowhere.
(I found out next morning that the BBC Choristers had been picked
up by the radio in a nearby office truck.) I forgot all about the
guns and just lay in my bed thrilled.
But what a queer mixture of love and hate! In one ear, as
it were, came the roar of great guns hurtling death through the
night. In the other the joyous music of carols with the message
of good cheer.
A poem accompanies the letter:
Last night as I lay on my cot neath the stars
The still of the dark was broken by Mars
With a crash and a roar the guns had begun
To spit forth their death from the neighboring Hun
The air was soon filld with the scream of the shell
The sky a blood-red like the fire lights of hell
O, what has come over this world so war-worn
For this is the even on which Christ once was born?
And then, as if answering this frail human cry
The sound of sweet voices was heard in the sky
The voices of children so merry and bright
Brought the carols of Christmas to gladden the night
The message they brought een the guns could not still:
Therell be peace soon on earth to men of goodwill.
I smiled as I turned on my cot neath the stars
The music of God drownd the music of Mars
The letter and the poem are available on a small printed card from
the Vancouver City Archives.
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