The night was hot and steamy, too hot, too sticky and too not like Christmas for the soldier that lay trying to get some rest before going on duty, in the non air-conditioned barracks room.
Last Christmas had been so special, a family sharing their Christmas joy, watching children open presents, seeing the happiness on their smiling faces. Sharing a stolen kiss under the mistletoe with the one you loved.
The day had been even more special knowing that at any moment the deployment would happen and you'd have to leave the ones you love and head for a land far away where sand replaced snow, and the nearest thing to Christmas decorations were the socks somebody had hung on a small cut-down palm tree that stood forlornly in the corner of the barracks room.
It was strange to realize that the first Christmas had taken place in a land much like the one they were now stationed in. Despite the dangers that confronted them every day the country still had its beauty. You could almost imagine seeing three camels following one of the stars that twinkled in the clear black sky, which could just be made out through the slit, blast protecting windows.
Sighing, the soldier picked up a magazine carelessly dropped by one of the platoon members, and started to read how many years before a war had been briefly stopped by Christmas.
On Christmas Eve in December 1914 one of the most unusual events in military history took place on the Western front. On the night of Dec. 24 the weather abruptly became cold, freezing the water and slush of the trenches in which the men bunkered. On the German side, soldiers began lighting candles. British sentries reported to commanding officers there seemed to be small lights raised on poles or bayonets.Although these lanterns clearly illuminated German troops, making them vulnerable to being shot, the British held their fire. Even more amazing, British officers saw through their binoculars that some enemy troops were holding Christmas trees over their heads with lighted candles in their branches. The message was clear: Germans, who celebrated Christmas on the eve of Dec. 24, were extending holiday greetings to their enemies.Within moments of that sighting, the British began hearing a few German soldiers singing a Christmas carol. It was soon picked up all along the German line as other soldiers joined in harmonizing.One by one, British and German soldiers began laying down their weapons to venture into no-man's-land, a small patch of bombed-out earth between the two sides. So many soldiers on both sides ventured out that superior officers were prevented from objecting. There was an undeclared truce and peace had broken out.
That night, former enemy soldiers sat around a common campfire. They exchanged small gifts from their meager belongings - chocolate bars, buttons, badges and small tins of processed beef. Men who only hours earlier had been shooting to kill were now sharing Christmas festivities and showing each other family snapshots
The soldier put down the magazine, and lay back on the bed, still thinking of the previous Christmas, until an order barked into the barracks told that it was time for the night patrol.
Taking out a slightly tattered picture from their fatigues pocket, a small tear crept into the eye of the soldier. It showed a smiling husband and wife and two young children, gathered around a Christmas tree, the lights reflecting in the eyes of each member of the family.
Sighing, the soldier carefully pushed the photo back into their pocket, before reaching into a bag under their bed. Looking once more at the discarded magazine, they pulled out a dozen bars of chocolate and stuffed them into a side trouser pocket.
Corporal Fanning might be many thousands of miles away from her family, but as a mother, she may still be able to bring a brief smile and moment of happiness to some children in a war torn country.