Remember Me

Remember Me

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas in France, 1914

Letter #12 December 27th, 1914 written by Charley to his Mom and Dad and his younger sister.
December 27, 1914   France
Just received your very nice P.C. today.  Was very glad to hear that VV would be home for Christmas and when you write be sure to tell me how she made out in her Exams.  The nurses had the Hospital all decorated up with evergreens at night they gave a concert all of which help very much to cheer up the patients as there were a lot that were not well enough to go home for Christmas.  As yet we have not had any wounded Canadians you see we were here a long while before the Canadians left Salisbury Plains.

          Had a letter from Laws and Ina today.  They seem to be all in good health and Ina said that she had got Ireland reinstated around the house she sure is some girl I like to hear from her as I know just what kind of a time she has had around there with Annie.

          Things around here are just about the same the allies are still progressing little by little. And some of these days you will hear about the progress the Kawks are making and by the time Kitchener's army gets here there will be something doing.

          In all your letters you keep asking me if I am in France.  We were the first of all the Canadians to land on the Continent  (_censored_______________).

          Had a letter from Ross saying he had joined the second contingent and hoped to meet me in Berlin. He said he had joined three weeks previous but had not told his mother and was not going to tell they were leaving as he did not want to prolong the agony.

          The weather here has been very rainy the last few days but the people in this vicinity say that it gets fine again about the middle of February

                   Well Mother there is absolutely no news that I can tell more than you see in the papers.  Hoping this finds you and Father in good health and business brisk the coming new year.  Remember me to VV when you write her.


The Christmas of 1914 must have been an extremely difficult time for the families of those serving and certainly for those on active duty.
Young men, brand new soldiers, enduring the trenches, the cold, the wet; and not really seeing the sense in it all.  Men from all over the world enduring the shock and horror of losing friends and comrades in unimaginable scenarios.  Most of them signed up believing they`d be home by Christmas.
It would have been just as difficult for those serving outside the trenches; the Nursing Sisters, the surgeons, the ambulance drivers, the postal workers, the medical dispensers, the dental assistants. 

I sit at my computer today in the peace and quiet of my blessed life and I am thankful and humbled. Thankful that I live in a corner of the world where I am free to live the way I choose.  Thankful that I am not hungry or frightened or cold.  And I am humbled as I reflect on the millions upon millions of lives lost and turned upside down by that first 'Great War'.  

The 'Christmas Truce' of 1914 is well known. It`s getting a great deal of press this year on the centenary of the First World War, with a good bit of sweetening and sanitizing.   For some men in the trenches, the Christmas Truce was a brief ceasefire while both sides buried the dead who had fallen in no mans land.  Wherever it occurred, with or without the singing of carols and exchange of small gifts, it was most certainly a moment of sanity and civility just before the gates of hell were flung wide open.

The`Christmas Truce` and easing of tensions was not looked upon kindly by everyone.
  • "December 1914 II Corps HQ [General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien] To all Division Commanders:… friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited”)
  • From German newspapers: “ War is no sport, and we are sorry to say that those who made these overtures did not clearly understand the gravity of the situation.”
  • And from Britain an Army Order issued on December 29 1914 "Forbids for the future similar fraternization, and any rapprochement with the enemy in the trenches. All acts contrary to this order will be punished in high treason."  Essex County Telegraph, Jan 12 1915"

From the WW1 journals of Private Herr Lange of the German army, “The difficulty began after the 26th, when the order to fire was given, for the men struck. `We can’t - they are good fellows, and we can’t.’  Finally the officers turned on the men with, `Fire, or we do - and not at the enemy!’ Not a shot had come from the other side, but at last they fired, and an answering fire came back, but not a man fell.  We spent that day and the next, wasting ammunition in trying to shoot the stars down from the sky."
And from Captain C. I. Stockwell, Royal Welsh Fusiliers
“December 26th. There was a hard frost. At 8.30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it and I climbed on the parapet. The German captain put up a sheet with “Thank You” on it, appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots into the air, and the War was on again.”

(Here`s a diagram and a photograph of a WW1 trench)

Away From The Trenches

The following is a young woman's description of Christmas 1914 at the hospital where Charley worked. It's an excerpt from Chapter 18 of  " Doing Our Bit : Memories of War Service By a Canadian Nursing Sister" written by Mabel B. Clint (1934)
Doing Our Bit : Memories of War Service By a Canadian Nursing Sister 
Christmas 1914

Our first December 25th. was spent at Le Touquet. We had sent as many patients as possible across the Channel, and the remainder were not too numerous to entertain. On Christmas Eve we gathered in the central hall, and sang carols from the staircase, where they could be heard by the bed-patients, while all who could be up were gathered in wheel chairs and benches on the floor below. This was a surprise feature, and pleased the men as a reminder of the Eve at home. On Christmas morning there was an early celebration of Holy Communion, to which many came. The patients each received a Canadian Red Cross present from our stores, and were regaled with a good dinner. Instead of the meal on a tray, a long table was set up in each ward and the men enjoyed most of all the community repast. The Colonel visited every ward, all being gaily decorated and wished his charges a merry Christmas. The cards sent from the King and Queen to each man were distributed, and Princess Mary's gift box.
The British Grocers' Federation contributed individual tins of toffee, decorated with the Flag and portrait of the King, inscribed "To our fighting heroes," while another Firm sent gifts bearing the legend: "Good luck to our 'Contemptible little army'". So that even the "All-Highest" had part in the merriment of the occasion. Special cakes had been ordered by the sisters from Paris-Plage, and were elaborately decorated, and much admired as well as otherwise enjoyed by our soldier guests. A gramophone had arrived from England, and during the afternoon English residents at Le Touquet paid a visit with a present of tobacco, always welcome, and gave a concert in the evening. The day was fine and bright, and cheered the spirits of those who were spending their first Christmas at war. Canadian nurses in Boulogne were invited to dinner at our Mess, and the officers and sisters dined together, with toasts to Canada.

Another Nursing Sister, Miss Alfreeda Attrill describes these past few weeks at Charley's hospital.  Her letter was published in the Winnipeg  Evening Tribune ~ January 9th 1915
Miss Attrill writes:  
No 2 Stationary Hospital, 1st Canadian Expeditionary Force Via Boulogne France  Formerly Golf Club
Our hospital is now in running order. It was formerly a Gold Club hotel at Le Touquet. The wards are named after the provinces of Canada.  There are four floors, three wards on each floor, excepting the basement, which has but one ward, New Brunswick, not yet opened, and dental surgery dispensary and stores departments. 
Our patients arrived about mid night the third of December. For a week I was not attached to any particular ward, doing general relieving, day or night and taking stock of linen, etc.  When the second convoy of sick and wounded soldiers arrived I was assigned in charge of forty six beds.  The majority of the cases in this ward just now are medical. I am glad to say that all are doing very well. Each day there is an improvement.  Some were sent home to England last week All are looking forward in anticipation of Christmas in the hospital.  They say it seems like unto heaven after the long weeks of four months in th trenches and so home-like.  The soldiers are such good patients, never a grumble or a groan, even from the most ill and suffering.  Always a smile from “Tommy” when an inquiry is made as to his wants or comforts. One of our patients was fortunate enough to have his father come over from England to visit him.  You never saw such a delighted boy and pleased father who was overjoyed to find his son doing so nicely and to see the first Canadian hospital establishment in France.  Miss Hudson is sister in charge of the Prince Edward Island ward.
Many Frost bitten.
A great number of the surgical cases have frost bitten feet. The medical ones are such as would develop from exposure over fatigue and infection..  Our location is very beautiful.  It is not far from the sea.  When daylight noises have ceased we can hear the roar of the ocean and often at night the boom of the guns. The contour of the country is rolling with clumps of pines sand dunes bare and wet sloughs all intersected with well-built turnpikes or high roads. There are two villages quite near to which the nursing sister sometimes walk or ride horseback.  We have good, well cooked food, our sleeping quarters are comfortable and we enjoy the work.
Alfreeda J Attrill
Nursing sisters CAMC 

From the Toronto Mail and Empire.  Jan 2015
A letter written by Captain Reginald Pentecost, a chief physician who, with other members of the No. 2 Stationary Hospital of the First Canadian Expeditionary Force, is stationed in Le Touquet northern France.

"A Mutual Truce
Many remarkable stories have been told us by the latest train-load of wounded soldiers of how Christmas Day in the trenches was spent.  In some regions there was a mutual truce declared between our men and the Germans, and during this they each got out of their trenches and shook hands and exchanged greeting and presents.  In one place where our engineers were building a pontoon bridge the Germans sent a note saying that they would agree not to fire if the English stop building the bridge for a few hours, although they had several Maxim guns trained on the spot.  At the end of the time they left a note pinned to a board saying, “We are leaving and another regiment is taking our places, so you are no longer safe”  And in a quarter of an hour, sure enough the same place was literally orn to pieces by gun fire.  This seems extraordinary does it not, when you consider how bitterly they fight under ordinary circumstances?  These are but a few of the incidents which tend to relieve a little of the horrible side of modern warfare.
On Christmas Day we had very few cases in the hospital, but those who remained, about 150 in number, had, I think, one of the jolliest Christmases they have ever experienced.  They all took an interest in decorating the hospital, and as we are near a pine forest there was plenty of green to set off the red bunting and flags which were given to us by various people and societies in England. Some of the soldiers had real artistic ability and could  draw very well, so we had many sketches and rough drawings made of cotton and paper, and stuck on the blankets and bunting.  Two of them were mottoes reading, “Success to our Canadian Comrades” and “Best Wishes of the Royal Warwick’s to Col. Shillington and Officers.  Each man had a red stocking tied to the foot of his bed by the nurses, which were filled with small toys, candies, nuts and some useful presents at the bottom.  It was very amusing when each man awoke in the morning and saw his stocking.  One would awaken another in the next bed and say: Jack wake up. Look at the blooming things I got” and then they would pull out a small horn and blow it.  In the afternoon we had a concert at which many of the prominent London entertainers, who came over to entertain the wounded, sang, while many men took part and recited different pieces by Kipling or sang rollicking songs as only the British Tommy can.  One of the men composed and recited a poem on the occasion."


Thanks to M.K Tod  (
and Gary Bachman's notes in the comment section to this article

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