The summer holiday of 1987 had been pretty dull for Rachael. A hot summer it was, but sixteen year old girls were supposed to have more fun. And fun was promised for Rachael back home in Ramsgate in the shape of Gary. Gary who knew that if he kept plying her with cider she would eventually give out. And giving out eventually was most certainly in Rachael’s plan for the summer of 1987.
The fun quotient didn’t increase when her Dad announced that she was going with him and her grandfather, and his old comrade Bill to visit the first world war graves in Northern France. The summer of 1987 was the 70th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele, and Rachael’s Dad had decided it was time she learned a bit about their family history. So to France went Rachael, Dad, Bill and Gramps. Gramps was 90 and Rachael knew he wouldn’t be around forever and that kind of made the graves trip OK.
Rachael was pretty underwhelmed by the graves in all honesty. She understood that a lot of young men had died and were buried there but it was, well, so long ago and what did it have to do with her? She’d also felt sick on the ferry. Gramps and Bill seemed very quiet once they saw the graves – she wasn’t sure why – and they had gone off on their own. Rachael thought it might have been connected with 300,000 men being killed in the battle or was it 30,000 or 3,000,000? Anyway it was a lot.
Rachael wandered amongst the graves just behind Gramps and Bill and watched as they slowly walked up and down the lines, occasionally stopping and pointing at a headstone. She thought at one point they were crying so she let them go on ahead.
After a while she caught up with them again – from a distance she could see they were standing still – seemingly listening to something. She slowly approached and then she could hear it too. What was it – she hesitated – that was it – Silent Night someone was singing Silent Night from across the lines of graves. As she got closer to the two old men she could hear that while it was Silent Night, it was being sung in German. She recognised it from a film she’d seen on BBC 2 about the Christmas truces.
Rachael sat and watched as events unfolded. Gramps and Bill slowly walked down the hill towards the singing which Rachael could now see was coming from a small group of very elderly men. She watched transfixed as Gramps and Bill arrived at the point where the singers were standing. Some words, some handshakes and then embraces. Lots of embraces. Old enemies. Old men.
Rachael turned and ran up the hill – ran like the wind. She had a idea. “Give me the car keys quickly” she called to her Dad, and keys in hand she dashed to the car.
She must have looked odd running from the car park through the cemetery to where the old men were standing. Odd because she was running with a football under her arm. She’d seen the film and knew what to do. The old enemies had been there seventy years earlier and they knew what to do too.
A small crowd gathered to watch the old men gently kick the ball around. Rachael wasn’t among them. She’d gone back to the car to cry her eyes out.