The Christmas Truce - war heroes remembered in new book

A sign of peace in No Mans Land

A sign of peace in No Mans Land - Credit: Archant

Children remember the bravery of soldiers who fought and survived the First World War

These are the soldiers, watching by night,
Under the moon, shining bright,
That lit up the place w

These are the soldiers, watching by night, Under the moon, shining bright, That lit up the place where peace was found - Credit: Archant

Earlier this year primary school children around the country were invited to write about a brave soldier as part of this year’s First World War centenary commemorations. The winners of the competition were given the opportunity to pay public tribute to their hero. Patrick Watson, 11, from South Milford Primary School in Leeds is one of just two young writers who now have a dedication in the front of a new commemorative wartime book called The Christmas Truce written by Yorkshire-born author Hilary Robinson and illustrated by Martin Impey.

Patrick wrote about his great grandfather Charles Norman James known as ‘Jimmy’, who lied about his age in order to join the Royal Flying Corp to become a bomber pilot. He was shot down and narrowly escaped capture by playing dead. He went on to survive both world wars and died at the age of 92 in 1991.

Lewis Higgs, five, from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire also has a dedication in the book to his great great grandfather Thomas Higgs of the Royal Army Medical Corp.

Karl and his friend Lars sang Silent Night

Karl and his friend Lars sang Silent Night - Credit: Archant

Patrick’s story

I never got to see him. To his friends, he was known as ‘Jimmy’. He didn’t really like to talk about the war because it was a nasty experience but he did tell some of his stories to my granddad. Jimmy lied about his age so he could join the RFC (Royal Flying Corp), now known as the RAF. He said he was 16 (the minimum age to be in the RFC) when he was really only 15.

As a pilot in the RFC, Jimmy would return to his barracks after a day of flying and sit at a T-shaped table. Along the top of the table, the most senior ranking officers sat and the new recruits would join, taking the place at the bottom of the T-shaped table at the furthest point away from the high ranked officers. Each time someone didn’t come back from a flying mission everyone moved up a seat and a new recruit would fill the place at the bottom of the T-shaped table. It wasn’t very long before Jimmy reached the top of the table – only six weeks. That tells you how few people survived World War I.

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While he was a bomber pilot, his plane was shot down. He was sent out to a bombing raid. Jimmy and his mate made an emergency landing. As a result of their plane being shot down, they had to abandon it to avoid the enemy. They sneaked onto a train but soon they realised they’d been spotted and they had to jump off. Jimmy broke both of his ankles but he still had to try to get to safety.

When Jimmy and his mate realised they couldn’t get away quickly they had no choice but to just play dead.

They could hear the German soldiers close by them. One placed his foot on Jimmy’s back and shouted to his fellow soldiers: ‘Nothing here.’

They then moved on once the enemy soldiers had gone. Jimmy and his friend managed to get to a farm where they were nursed by a local farmer and his wife, and then they were back to health.

They were finally able to get back to England with their help. Jimmy was a lucky bomber pilot and was a World War I survivor. He was even a survivor in World War II. His actual name was Charles Norman James. He was born on the 28th January 1899 in Darcey Street in York (it’s been knocked down now).

He died in 1991 at the age of 92. He was as brave as a lion!

The Christmas Truce

It’s Christmas Eve 1914. A group of tired soldiers start singing Stille Nacht, the soldiers on the other side of No Man’s Land respond with Silent Night. The next day German and British soldiers put down their guns and joined in a game of football to celebrate the spirit of Christmas Day.

This moving story has been re-told especially for young children in a new book called The Christmas Truce, written in rhyme as a tribute to the war poets of the time. It tells the story of soldiers Ben and Ray shaking hands in friendship with Karl and Lars – a tribute to that remarkable moment in history when, for one day, peace found a place.

Author Hilary Robinson and illustrator Martin Impey worked together earlier in the year with the Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle to launch a competition inviting young people to write about a brave soldier who fought in the First World War. Seven Stories received entries from children throughout the UK and chose the winners.

‘The Christmas Truce was a remarkable moment in history, a show of friendship and humanity amidst the tragedy of war,’ said Hilary.

‘It typified the human spirit as a time of unbelievable hardship and it is an honour to be playing a part, however small, in the remembrance of that,’ added Martin.

The Christmas Truce is published by Strauss House Productions price £7.99