All such thoughts flew from his mind when he reached the front. As he turned the corner into the front-line trench, he got a shock.
There was no one there.
He walked along the trench, zigzagging around one traverse, then another, and saw no one. It was like a ghost story, or one of those ships found floating undamaged with not a soul abroad.
There had to be an explanation. Had there been an attack that somehow Fitz had not been told about?
It occurred to him to look over the parapert.
This was not to be done casually. Many men were killed on their first day at the front because they took a quick look over the top.
Fitz picked up one of the short-handled spades called entrenching tools. He pushed the blade gradually up over the edge of the parapet. Then he climbed on to the fire step and slowly raised his head until he was looking out through the narrow gap between the parapet and the blade.
What he saw astonished him.
The men were all in the cratererd desert of no-man's-land. But they were not fighting. They were standing around in groups, talking.
There was something odd about their appearance, and after a moment Fitz realized that some of the uniforms were khaki and others field grey.
The men were talking to the enemy.
Fitz dropped the entrenching tool, raised his head fully over the parapet, and stared. There were hundreds of soldiers in no-man's-land, stretching as far as he could see to left and right, British and Germans intermingled.
What the hell is going on?
He found a trench ladder and scrambled up over the parapet. He marched across the churned earth. The men were showing photographs of their families and sweethearts, offering cigarettes, and trying to communicate, saying things like:" Me Robert, who you?"
He spotted two sergeants, one British and one German, deep in conversation. He tapped the Brit on the shoulder. "You!" he said. "What the devil are you doing?"
The man answered him in the flat guttural accent of the Cardiff docks. "I don't know how it happened, sir, exactly. Some of the Jerries got up on their parapet, unarmed, and shouted "Happy Christmas", then one of our boys done the same, then they started walking towards one another and before you could say chips everyone was doing it."
"But there's no one in the trenches!" Fitz said angrily. "Don't you see this could be a trick?"
The sergeant looked up and down the line. "No sir, if I'm honest, I can't say that I do see that," he said coolly.
The man was right. How could the enemy possibly take advantage of the fact that the frontline forces of both sides had become friends?