John Julius Norwich's 2011 Christmas Cracker has arrived. Lord Norwich refers to it as a commonplace selection, commonplace being British for a collection of anecdotes. What began as gift of shared favorite stories, collected over his long life, to his friends, has become a welcome holiday tradition at our home.
My favorite story from this year's collection:
This passage is from Anthony Beevor's D-Day. He is writing of the American 5th Infantry Division, in early August 1944. Perhaps you or one of our father's were there.
"Like the British they too had encountered difficult country and woods. It was a curious advance, with bouts of intensive fighting, then moments of uneasy calm. The commander of one company described a strange experience as they advanced along a forest track." The woods seemed to cast an eerie spell over us and though we were the subjects of a fairy enchantment" he wrote. He and his men suddenly heard the a soft gentle clapping."As we came closer we could see the shadowy forms of French men and women and children, lining the roadway, not talking, some crying softly, but most just gently clapping, extending for several hundred feet on both sides of the track. A little girl came alongside me. She was blonde, pretty, and maybe all of 5 years old. She trustingly put her hand in mine and walked a short way with me, then stopped and waved until we were out of sight." Even 50 years later he could still hear the sound of the soft clapping in the wood."
Even though it occurred in August this feels like a Christmas story. Reminds me of the Joyeux Noel stories of early WWI, of which more later this month.