At a train station in Wales, mothers stood in the bitter cold, trying so hard to hold back the tears. All these young lads, barely 18, in their uniforms, ready to fight for their country. Such a look of pride on their young faces, the mothers knew they should remain strong. The tears would come later along with the prayers for their safe return.
It did not seem that long ago that they had been little lads, playing innocent war games with their friends. Scuffed knees, dirty faces and ruffled hair. They had their futures before them.
David Evans was an inquisitive fellow, always eager to learn. He dreamed of becoming a teacher and spent much of his time studying. Now at 18 he had joined his classmates and childhood friends to become a soldier. He had no fear, just pride that he would be fighting for his country.
His mother, jostled along by the crowd, craned her head to get one last glimpse of her son as he boarded the train. Long after the train had left and the crowd had dispersed, she remained. Her father had given his life in the last war and her husband had died in a mining accident many years hence. “Please God, keep him safe,” she prayed. “He is all I have left.”
Meanwhile, in Munich, a similar scene. Young men in uniform bid farewell to their mothers. Among them was 18-year-old Hans Vogel. A bit of a dreamer and kindly soul. Many injured animals had been carried to his house where he carefully tended to them. Some survived and others did not. Everyone knew that Hans Vogel, the lad with the healing hands, would someday become a doctor. That was before the outbreak of war. Now here he was in uniform, ready to depart and fight for his country.
When his family arrived at the station to bid him farewell, snow began to fall and the night was bitterly cold. Hans spied his friend Dieter and they shook hands. Their mothers asked them to look out for each other. Both boys laughed and hugged their families’ goodbye then boarded the packed train.
After the trains had departed, the mothers of David and Hans remained in their homes waiting eagerly for news from their boys. Both lads wrote whenever they could, hoping that the letters would get through. The mothers prayed every moment they could. Both would sit on the bed of their son, stroke the covers and hold an item of their clothing close to their hearts and pray for their safe return.
Two months had passed and the glory of being a soldier had subsided to be replaced with the sounds of gunfire, screams and fear. If they managed to close their eyes for a short while, the stench of blood and memories of dead comrades filled their dreams. Dieter had been crouched in the trench alongside Hans. Both shivered from cold and also fear. Hans glanced into Dieter’s eyes. Both boys were caked with mud. They hadn’t slept for two days now and were exhausted.
In the darkness, an earie silence had fallen over the battlefield. For what seemed like an eternity, it remained so. “I think we are the only ones left Hans.” Dieter lifted his body slightly. “Do you think it is safe. Shall we take a look?” Hans reached for Dieter and grabbed his sleeve, but it was too late. Dieter stood up. The silence was broken as a shot rang out and Dieter slumped to the ground. His dead eyes stared at Hans and blood trickled from a wound in his forehead.
“Du Schweinekerl!” Without even thinking Hans crawled out of the trench and rushed towards a stumbling figure. An English soldier, the enemy! “Schweinekerl!” he shouted again, aimed and shot. In the same moment David already wounded and barely able to stand, fired his rifle.
All was black. All was silent. So silent, so bitterly cold, so lonely. Snow began to fall.
David was the first to open his eyes. Pain shot through his chest and his wounded leg had no feeling. Just a foot away lay a young German soldier. His eyes were closed and he lay quite still. The moon was half full and cast a faint light over the battle field. Everywhere lay the dead. Young men from both countries.
The silence remained. David knew that death was close. There was no one who could save him. There was nobody left alive in this hell.
The silence was broken by a soft moan coming from the young German. David remained quite still. His rifle lay some distance away.
The snow was falling fast and the ground had begun to freeze. Hans felt no pain in his body at all, just a numbness. He blinked as snowflakes attached themselves to his lashes. He gazed at the hazy half-moon and the crazy dots swirling around him. A hysterical laugh left him stunned until re realised it was he. “Sind alle tot? Bin ich die letzte?“ he screamed out in German.
“We are the last alive.” came the weak reply. “We are the only ones left.”
Just a foot away from him lay the English soldier. The soldier who had killed his friend. Somehow he didn’t look like the enemy he had imagined. He was just a young man like himself, wounded cold and afraid.
In this wasteland of senseless slaughter, the two of them stared into each other’s eyes and hearts. David attempted to move, but his lifeless leg would not allow it. Hans was not afraid and felt no threat from this human being. He recognized only desperation, loneliness and pain. With great effort he managed to get to his knees and crawl a little closer. David reached out his hand and Hans held it tight. “Hans,” he said. The warmth from David’s hand ignited a spark inside him and emotions he never thought possible filled his whole being.
“David Evans from Wales’” answered David.
Both began to cry freely united in their desperation, loneliness and pain. “Are you afraid of dying?” asked David.
“Yes I am, but only because I feel it was for nothing, all my friends and comrades gone.”
Oh Silent Night. Two young men huddled together. Hans managed to cradle David in his arms.
“I was to be a teacher,” said David.
“And I a doctor.”
“We could have been friends.”
After a time, David’s body went limp and Hans knew that he had passed.
Their bodies were found in the morning. Both frozen solid, still holding on to each other.
What they do not know is this:
After David had passed away, Hans sang softly the words of Silent night as he cradled the dead soldier in his arms. Before him appeared a light.
Together the two young souls walked towards it. Their comrades were waiting. They were not fighting but were all united in love.
Birdy Heywood November 2017