Reproduced with kind permission of Jean Silvan Evans and Wales Online
James Macey was born in Ynyshir, Rhondda in 1895 to Ann and Henry Macey. He lived with his 5 sisters and 3 brothers (Lucretia, Ann M, Blodwen, Bronwen, Rosy May, William J, Gomer, Trevor, Albert) at 8 Danygraig Terrace. On the 4th of August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany, and aged only 19 years old James became a Sargent of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
On 24th December 1914 James took part in the famous Christmas Truce, where British and German soldiers played football together in no-man’s land. His experiences are related below.
James ‘Jim’ Macey’s daughter Jean Silvan Evans recalls her father telling them how the Truce began: ‘He often told us stories about it when we were children and, like so many others, remembered it as starting with calls from the German trenches of “Hello, Tommy!”, “Happy Christmas, Tommy!”.
Soon soldiers from both sides began gingerly to put their heads above the trenches. No-one fired and they became bolder. Then they were all out, meeting in the middle, shaking hands, laughing, showing each other family pictures. The impromptu football match followed.
Over the years, I’ve shared this story with young family members. Then my grandson, when he was about eight, stumped me with a question I had never been asked before. After listening seriously, he put his head on one side and asked thoughtfully: “What position did he play?” I said it wasn’t like that, it was more like a family kick-about in the garden. At least that was the way my father told it.
As it grew darker, both sides retired to their own trenches and the unofficial, unexpected truce continued with some carol singing. My father particularly remembered the singing of Silent Night, a shared carol sung in two languages as the combined melodies lifted into the darkening night sky.
All this my father told happily, with broad smiles. Very, very rarely, he would go on to the next part. His face would change and harden in disbelief. “Then the next day,” he would say with a flash of contempt and hatred, “We were killing each other again! And they were bloody nice blokes.”
It was that look and those words – reflecting the famous line that the Tommie “lions” were led by officer “donkeys” – that so very many years later, made me understand why he seemed to hate his Military Medal and was determined to get rid of it – twice!
He won the Military Medal – and lost a leg – at the Battle of the Somme. The first time he got rid of it was the source of another family story. He had swapped the medal for a pint of beer. He would tell the story, we would tease him and it would end in smiles as he shook his head and said: “I shouldn’t have done it!”
It was a different story when the medal came back, something like 50 years later. The man to whom he had given it had emigrated to Australia. When he died, his children found the medal. As my father’s name was on it, they generously decided to send it back, in the hope it would find its true owner.
As my father lived in the same place, it did. But he wasn’t laughing then. We are not sure how long the medal was in the house but he was never happy about it. One night my sister, who was delighted with the return of the medal, urged him to take pride in it. He stoically maintained he did not want it.
When she left him that night, he waited until dark. Then he walked to the river. Standing alone, he threw the medal into the shadowy waters. “I didn’t want it!” was all he would say, stubbornly, afterwards.’
- Sainsbury’s Christmas advert depicting the unofficial Christmas truce http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/sainsburys-christmas-advert-amazing-true-8101713
- Sergeant James Macey’s record – Imperial War Museum https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/5066827
- Medal Index Card (Imperial War Museum) The National Archive – £3.50 to view his medal card http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D6193227
- Dr Robin Barlow (Western Mail) http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/sainsburys-christmas-advert-amazing-true-8101713
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