Submitted by Marc Bernier

“Christmas in the Trenches” is a song written by John McCutcheon. It tells the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce between the British and German lines on the Western Front during the First World War from the perspective of a fictional British soldier. Although Francis Tolliver is a fictional character, the events depicted in the ballad are mostly true.

McCutcheon often prefaces the song in concert by telling one of several stories about it. One is about how he first heard the story of the Christmas Truce from a janitor with whom he swapped stories before a concert. He also tells of performing the song at various festivals, where old men would come to him after and explain that they were there. 

The Christmas Truce was not an isolated incident, but rather a series of unofficial ceasefires leading up to Christmas that year. You can read more about the Christmas Truce on Wikipedia.

Listen to John McCutcheon performing “Christmas in the Trenches:”

"Christmas in the Trenches" sheet music
Download the sheet music for “Christmas in the Trenches.”


My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool

Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school

To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here

I fought for King and country I love dear

It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung

The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung

Our families back in England were toasting us that day

Their brave and glorious lads so far away

I was lyin’ with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground

When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound

Says I, “Now listen up, me boys.” Each soldier strained to hear

As one young German voice sang out so clear

“He’s singin’ bloody well, you know,” my partner says to me

Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony

The cannons rested silent. The gas cloud rolled no more

As Christmas brought us respite from the war

As soon as they were finished, a reverent pause was spent

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” struck up some lads from Kent

The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “‘Tis ‘Silent Night,'” says I

And in two tongues, one song filled up that sky

“There’s someone comin’ towards us,” the front-line sentry cried

All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side

His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright

As he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night

Then one by one on either side walked into no-man’s-land

With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand

We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well

And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ’em hell

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home

These sons and fathers far away from families of their own

Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin

This curious and unlikely band of men

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more

With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war

But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night

“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung

The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung

For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war

Had been crumbled and were gone for ever more

My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell

Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned it’s lessons well

That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame

And on each end of the rifle we’re the same

Marc Bernier is a chanteyman, musician, chef, and sailor with a diverse musical and professional background. He spent over 5 years as a Mystic Seaport Chanteyman. As part of the Seaport Interpretation Department, he presented music programs for both educational and social functions. He has worked as a musician and educator for the Clearwater program on the Hudson River, and has sailed as cook, deck hand, and entertainer on numerous traditional sailing vessels from the coast of Maine to Chesapeake Bay.