Christmas in Germany, 1915

Richard Hannay, the narrator in John Buchan’s spy novel Greenmantle, is an English spy inside Germany at Christmas, 1915, World War I.

“It was the 23rd day of December, and even in war time one had a sort of feel of Christmas. You could see girls carrying evergreens, and when we stopped at a station the soldiers on leave had all the air of holiday making. The middle of Germany was a cheerier place than Berlin or the western parts. I liked the look of the old peasants, and the women in their neat Sunday best, but I noticed, too, how pinched they were.”

Pinched because they were hungry. The British blockade of Germany in the North Atlantic meant that Germans were short of cloth, machinery, raw materials, and even food that was removed from ships sailing to Germany before the ships reached a German port. Germany responded to the British blockade with its own policy of “unrestricted submarine warfare,” and we all know what came next. The Americans entered the war.

My head was beginning to swim, but I made one more effort.
“There is food in my rucksack—biscuits and ham and chocolate. Pray take it for your use. And here is some money to buy Christmas fare for the little ones.” And I gave her some of the German notes.
After that my recollection becomes dim. She helped me up a ladder to the garret, undressed me, and gave me a thick coarse nightgown. I seem to remember that she kissed my hand, and that she was crying. “The good Lord has sent you,” she said. “Now the little ones will have their prayers answered and the Christkindl will not pass by our door.”

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