Literature plays an important part in On Wings of Song. When Jochen and Aiden—two soldiers fighting on opposite sides—meet during the 1914 Christmas Truce, they find a common interest in literature. Their discussion of Dickens and Tennyson leads to a mutual understanding, recognition of a kindred spirit, and a brief friendship each man wishes they had the opportunity to pursue further.
I’ve always loved reading, and have a weakness for Tennyson’s poetry. Like Aiden, poetry reminds me of music. Jochen refers to it as “music without the notes.” So when I needed a quote for Aiden to use to describe the lull in battle, a stanza from ‘Vivien’ from Idylls of the King fitted the situation perfectly: “A storm was coming but the winds were still.”
The choice of Dickens came from studying David Copperfield as part of a university paper on Victorian Literature. Like Aiden, I must admit to it being the only Dickens I’ve read so far, although he does something about that, and I haven’t… as yet.
The other reason for those choices is that I needed something that was published before 1914. I twitch when I read books or watch TV or movies set during an earlier time period, and characters are discussing literature and music that hasn’t been written yet!
The same held true for choosing a movie Aiden and Jochen could go to see together in 1920. I’ve been watching a lot of classic movies over the past couple of years thanks to our group’s monthly classic movie nights, and grown a new appreciation for them. Films in 1920 were silent as the talkies were still a year or two away. Choosing a film for Aiden and Jochen to watch was easy once I found a list of what was showing in Britain at the time and found something they’d both love.
Having them discuss English literature on a battlefield might seem surreal but it reflected the feel of the truce itself. Men on opposite sides laid down their arms, and enjoyed a brief peace, celebrating Christmas together in a moment of sanity amongst the horrors of war.
Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.
The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.
“I’ve seen it,” Aiden said quietly. “I wish to God I hadn’t.” He looked directly at Jochen. Jochen met Aiden’s gaze. He’d seen an echo of Conrad’s fire in Aiden when he’d talked about his music earlier that afternoon.
“Don’t die on the wire, Aiden.”
“I’ll try not to.” Aiden’s words were an empty promise. They both knew it, but what else was he going to say?
The red-haired man Aiden had spoken to about arranging the burials walked over to him. He too held a shovel, and he wiped perspiration from his brow despite the cold. “There’s going to be a combined service for the dead,” he told them. “In about ten minutes in no man’s land in front of the French trenches.”
As they made their way over, men were already beginning to gather, soldiers from opposite sides sitting together, conversation dwindling to a respectful silence. A British chaplain stood in front of them, a Bible in his hand, a German beside him. Jochen recognized him, although he didn’t know his name. The young man was only a few years older than Jochen and was studying for the ministry—would he ever get the chance to complete those studies?
Jochen and Aiden found somewhere to sit a few rows back from the front and joined the company of men. The German spoke first. “Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiligt werde dein Name.”
The British chaplain repeated the words in English. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.”
They then spoke a few words each, some from the Bible, the rest from their hearts. Their congregation was silent apart from a few quiet “amens.” Jochen saw a couple of men wipe tears away. He was close to it himself.
Finally the chaplain bowed his head in prayer. When he’d finished, he spoke quietly to the man who had come to stand next to him. It was Captain Williams. He nodded and looked over the crowd, his gaze fixing on Aiden.
Aiden must have guessed what Williams wanted. He inclined his head in response and then stood. Jochen glanced between the two men, confused. What did Williams expect Aiden to do?
“Aiden?” Jochen asked softly.
Aiden smiled at him and began to sing. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining….” He lifted his head, his voice strong and clear, each note building on the last to create something truly beautiful, something angelic. Aiden’s eyes shone; his body swayed slightly in time with the music. He was the music.
His audience sat in awe. Jochen could feel the emotion rippling through the men around him, tangible, as though he could reach out and touch it. He felt something inside himself reach out, wanting to be a part of it, to be carried along the wave of pure music, to grab it and never let go.
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.
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