Joyeux Noel is a Christmas film to warm the cockles of your heart, which, since the film was made in 2005, should make you Americans out there wonder why it wasn’t shown in all the theatres near you in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave this last Christmas, instead of dreck like “Meet the Fockers” that Hollywood normally puts out at that festive time. Could the problem have been that Joyeux Noel is, like, foreign, which is to say, not American?
Well, I should tell you that Joyeux Noel is about the fraternizing on Christmas Day 1914 between soldiers of the two warring sides who were systematically wiping each other out in the trenches of World War 1. In several sections of the line the soldiers spontaneously climbed out of their muddy trenches and celebrated the first Christmas Day of the war with the enemy without the higher-ups knowing. Together they sang hymns, drank booze, and talked. Then at the day’s end they went back to their respective trenches and resumed shooting, shelling, and bayoneting each other.
As I watched Joyeux Noel I began unashamedly to weep, and if my fellow patrons in the theatre were disconcerted by my snuffling and sobbing, that was too bad because it brought back my memories of the last day and night I spent with Lucille, the girl I was passionately and deeply in love with in the summer of 1917, when it seemed that the war would never end.
Lucille. I can see her now, even after nearly ninety years, her soulful dark eyes, light-brown skin, beautiful slender body, and long luscious black hair. She was colonial French, from Martinique, and was studying English in London. We first met at a soiree one evening at the house of a mutual friend, and when I saw her I couldn’t stop looking into her eyes, and she couldn’t stop looking into mine. It was the love at first sight, to end all loves at first sight.
We drifted together as on air over to a window where we could look down at the streetlights whose orbs we could barely see in the foggy darkness outside. Then we began to talk and talk, and we were soon sharing inner secrets that we’d told no-one else before. She drew it all out of me, as I drew it all out of her. I felt in the core of my being that we were soulmates. At the end of the evening, Lucille and I took each other’s hands and we arranged to meet the next afternoon for a walk through Hyde Park. We didn’t embrace, though. Strange, you might say, seeing as we were deeply attracted to each other. But you forget, this was 1917, not 2006.
I returned home after the soiree and my heart was singing, for I knew I’d found the love of my life. Then I was assailed with gloomy thoughts, since I was destined for France with my army battalion within a month, and my enthusiasm to go to the front and kick hell out of the Huns seemed now sort of silly, for it would take me away from Lucille. And, I might die in France.
I drifted into a delicious sleep that night, thinking only of Lucille.
When I espied her the next afternoon at our rendezvous in Hyde Park my heart was yammering so much that I thought I might have a heart attack, but I acted insouciantly, and she, too. But we were both trembling when our hands met and we commenced our walk. When we thought no-one was looking, our arms went around each other and we embraced madly, passionately. Then we would pull apart and walk nonchalantly.
Throughout that afternoon and evening Lucille and I were inseparable. We talked about anything and everything, and we held hands and laughed and embraced. I did notice frowns of disapproval from other strollers, but, to repeat, this was 1917, not 2006. It was as much as we could do to separate after I walked her home. We agreed to meet again the next day………then the day after that……..then the day after the day after that…………..
* * *
Then came the day I received my orders to go to France. I got them on a Friday, and I was to embark on the Sunday evening, just thirty-six hours after, and under cover of darkness, for German U-boats were lurking in the waters of the English Channel. My first thoughts were of Lucille, and that we might never see other again after Sunday. When I told her, her face took on an expression of such sadness I thought my heart would break. I tried to re-assure her. The Germans are on their last legs, I said. So I’ll soon be home again, and completely unscathed, I said. But this didn’t cheer her up, not one bit. I held her closely, and she held me, and she began to weep, and so did I. We would have just one day and one evening more together on the Saturday, for on Sunday I would be travelling to Dover for the troop ship to France.
A heaviness hung over us all that Saturday as we walked London’s streets and stopped off in pubs. For long periods we would say nothing, and if we said anything it sounded formal and forced. Then I said to Lucille, let’s get a hotel room and spend tonight together. Please, I said, if you love me, you’ll do this. Much to my surprise, she agreed, and readily. Should I have been surprised? Perhaps not, when I think back on it, given that we were at war, and in times of war we do things we don’t do when there’s no war.
To those of you who are saying: What was the big deal about what Lucille and I had agreed to do that last night, I repeat yet again, this was 1917, not 2006.
* * *
For reasons of decency and discretion I will say nothing of our night of love, except that was a night of unbridled passion, and a night I will cherish in my memory until that moment when I breathe my last.
The nearer dawn came, the more our precious hours became precious minutes, the more our precious minutes became precious seconds. Finally it was morning and we could dwell in each others arms no more.
I walked Lucille through the early morning streets, back to her front door, and, with tears running down our cheeks, we held each other and embraced one final time before she went in. I drank in her face and body each second before her door closed finally ……….
* * *
I wallowed in the trenches of France for over a year, miraculously unscathed, until in November 1918 Kaiser Bill called it quits, and the guns fell silent. While over there I had received letters from Lucille, and then they stopped. I wrote to her, asking why, but I received nothing back. On returning to England the first thing I did was visit the flat where Lucille lived. But the man who answered the door said she had moved out long ago, and he thought it was back to Martinique. He said she had left with a man who, judging by the affectionate way he spoke to Lucille and touched her, would not have been her brother or cousin or uncle or father.
On hearing this I was overcome by a numb angry feeling. Had I risked my life for King and Country in the most indescribable conditions imaginable, only to be betrayed by the woman I loved with a passion with which I’ve loved no other woman since, not even my wife? I walked down the street seeing nothing. I entered the first pub I came across, and I drank and I drank and I drank. For some months I was so shattered that I lived only to drink and to visit houses of ill repute. Slowly, but very slowly the bleeding from the raw wound of Lucille’s betrayal began to ease, then to stop.
But the scar tissue from the wound still sometimes opens, like when I see films like Joyeux Noel.
Oh Lucille, where are you that I might again see you, speak with you…………….?