By Gregory Clark, December 20, 1919.

The regiments are disbanded.

Their banners droop in the dusty shadows of silent churches.

Forty-eight battalions of infantry and a thousand guns, Canada’s historic army, scattered and stilled; and the comic lords of Peace decree it shall never assemble again, that it was a temporary army for a temporary war; and that its memories and its comradeships must be washed out, to make way for the gallant militia–

But to-night, and the coming four nights till Christmas Eve, those mighty battalions and shouting guns live again in the hearts of three hundred thousand men.

In the little homes and the great homes, men are sitting by the firesides, seeing visions.

They see again the narrow thoroughfares of Houdain, or Mazingarbe, Poperinghe, or Camblain l’Abbe.

The winter evening is falling. The little grey shops begin to glow with furtive lights. There is snow on all the steep roofs.

Men in khaki, muffled in greatcoats or leather jerkins, stamp over the frosty cobblestones. At the door of a crowded estaminet, a little group, amid much laughter and jovial profanity, gathers in a circle to sing a Christmas carol, entitled “Mademoiselle from Armentieres,” or perhaps “I Want to Go Home.”

A French girl, muffled in a huge scarf, with a basket on her arm, shuffles down the cobblestones.

“Merry Christmas, mamzelle!” cry all the troops

A limber comes clattering out of the darkness. It is laden with huge sacks. Atop sits the post corporal, who shouts:

“Nothing but parcels, boys! Seventeen bags of parcels from home!”

“Merry Christmas!”

Suddenly, a bugle thrills the crisp air. It is not “retreat,” nor “last post.” It sounds the “fall in!” But this unusual call seems to be expected, for the estaminets empty as if by magic, the cobbled street is crowded with men hastening to their company parade grounds.

The street becomes deserted. A silence descends. Then, from down at the village square, the sudden clear music of the regimental band rises up.

Presently the band comes closer in the darkness, and swings past, playing a rousing march. Behind it comes “A” company, and then “B.” The men are singing and laughing as they pass. They are without arms or equipment. To the French people who have come to their doors to see the sight, the boys cry out greetings, “Oo, la lal” and “Voulez-vous promenade?”

The battalion marches to the far end of the town. Spirits mount. There is a note of expectancy over all.

Band still playing, the battalion halts outside a great red-roofed barn rising out of the dusk. And, forming single file amid much loud, confused shouting of commands, the troops begin to enter.

Inside is fairyland. A thousand candles light up the scene. Long tables fill the great barn. The padre has garnished the bleak walls and cross-beams with evergreen. Flags and bunting drape the corners. And a smell, O! an overwhelming smell of roast pork and apple sauce, of plum pudding and rum punch, fills the cold bar with warmth.

Then up jumps the padre on a barrel. Silence is called for. And the padre, says that brief Army grace: “For what we are about to receive, thank God!”

The band plays “God Save the King.” In tumble the sergeants and corporals laden with steaming dixies. And the Christmas banquet is on.

Faint echoing crashes come from afar, but are drowned by the band and the singing. Green and white flashes flicker along the eastern sky, but the boys are safe in the light of the thousand candles.

There is pork and apple sauce and music. There is rum punch and speeches and more music. Then the band plays some of the old tunes and everybody sings. The smokes are passed around. A boy from “C” company with the voice of an angel sings “Roses of Picardy,” and everybody, even the old regimental sergeant-major, harmonizes on the refrain–

Outside, a pallid moon smiles down on the wintry little grey village, and the old village smiles back. For in a thousand years these two have looked upon many a company of soldiers singing by the wayside; not the same songs, but the same sentiments with the same hearts and the same high fellowship of romance.

Down this cobbled street Francois Villon has ridden, soldier, adventurer, poet; and Villon, four hundred years ago, sang-

“Where are the comrades of yesterday?

The winds have blown them all away.”

Have they? Not to-night!

Editor’s Note: This story comes a year after the end of World War One, with a few popular songs of the time mentioned, Mademoiselle from Armentières, I Want To Go Home, and Roses of Picardy.