Many years ago Laurie and I listened to elders in churches, nursing homes, nutrition sites, and activity rooms, gathering stories around various themes. I loved taking the time to sit and listen. These conversations led to lots of songs.
I don’t remember exactly where this song came from, or who told it to me. But the story inspired me. All the details in the song are from his telling. What’s interesting though, is that he told it to me as if it happened at night, and the actual time was 11 during the day. So something got changed through his filter, or mine. Or maybe communication back then was bad and peace broke out at different times for different places.
I have a lot of songs about war, but I’ve never experienced it. And I hope that someday no one will.
After the horrors of that war, imagine what it was like to have it over? Celebration, shock, uncertainty, and what else?
And 100 years later it’s still true that we have leaders who are insensitive to the suffering of others, and who can casually initiate actions that lead to death and casualties, whether from mustard gas, guns, bombs, or a drones. Our hearts haven’t changed as much as the technology has.
But still, there’s something about celebrating a moment that peace won out that I find comforting in these times.
Also, my friend Charlie Knower sent this to my attention. A recording of the moment of armistice, or rather one minute before and after 11.
I stood at the flap of the Captain’s tent
In the fall twilight
Waiting for the orders to carry to the troops at the edges of the fight
Captain came out and smiled at me
He said “the generals just agreed
That all the fighting’s going to cease
At 11 o’clock tonight.
He shook my hand and ordered me to send the word around
I started out slow careful and low over the battleground
The smell of mustard gas made me flinch
As I crawled from trench to trench
I’m whispering to the English and whispering to the French
And listening to them shout
As I carried the news
I carried it through on time
I carried the news
Up and down the line.
It had rained all day and pretty soon my feet were wet
11 o’clock got closer with my every step
I kept thinking about my dad
And how my momma would be so glad
And the germans kept firing with all they had
As if they didn’t know yet
I made my rounds and settled down with the boys of the ninth
I remember Sergeant Eddie took a locket from his pocket
Staring at the picture of his wife
Crazy Davy nearly threw a fit
He said “it seems such a shame to quit
What they started. Let us finish it”
So we took away his gun and his knife
Round about eleven, a blessed silence fell
And waking up next morning I remember all the bells.
© Stuart Stotts 2003