Leeds Mercury 1914: Christmas Letters from the Front

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Readers who received letters from men on active service were invited to submit them to the “Leeds Mercury.” Any extracts published were paid for, with the promise that letters would be carefully and promptly returned to the senders.

Xmas Letters from the Front

Private W Weir, of the 18th Hussars, writing to his wife in York, describes a pleasant Christmas scene at the front.

“As soon as daylight broke on Christmas Day we were saluted by the Germans, whose trenches were only sixty yards away.

They called out in good English: ‘A Happy Christmas to you all.’

We took no notice of it at first, but at about 1.30pm we heard them calling again.

We looked out of our loop-holes and there they were all standing on the top of their trenches. We could hardly believe our eyes. We were just about to open fire when our officers gave us the order to unload our rifles. Seeing the Germans standing there without rifles we stood up and answered them.

Then they cheered. One of their men cried out, ‘Here are some cigars for you, come and fetch them.’

We were not having any at first, as we thought it might be a trap. The German then threw a small box of cigars as far as he could and again told us to come over for them. They shouted, ‘Come on, we will not fire on you.’

The fellow who threw the cigars then came down from the top of his trench, and, picking up the box again, started to walk towards us.

Seeing this, I climbed over the parapet of our trench and went to meet him.

When we met he handed me the cigars and said, ‘A Happy Christmas to you.’  I hardly knew what to do at first, but I shook hands with him and wished him the compliments of the season also.

As soon as the Germans saw us shake hands they cheered like mad. They then started to come towards our trench. Our boys, all Indians by the bye, started out to meet them.

To see our greatest enemy shaking hands with our Indian troops and giving them cigars and cigarettes was a sight I shall never forget.

One of the Germans asked if I should like to bury a few dead Indian troops lying near their trenches. My chum and I set to work, and buried about a dozen of them for which the Germans thanked us. We then had our photographs taken by a German who was the proud possessor of a small camera.

All the Germans looked very fit. One thing I noticed, and that was that there were Iron Crosses galore amongst them, about one out of every six wearing one.

One of their officers clasped his hands and said,

‘My God, why cannot we have peace, and let us all go home.’

We spent an hour with them.

One of the Germans asked if we were going back to fire on them. I said I did not know.

He then said,

‘This is a Holy day. Germany keeps Christmas, and I know England does, so let’s be friends for a few hours.’

After dark you could hear them singing and playing a melodeon.

They also had Christmas trees on the top of their trenches, and these were lighted by Chinese lanterns. You could also see them walking along the top of their trenches, smoking cigarettes.

The only British troops there were three officers, my chum, and myself.

The Germans belonged to the 16th Regiment of Saxons, associated with the 14th Brigade.

This incident occurred only in one part of the line covering a distance of about 300 yards.

On our right and left they were fighting like demons.”

QUEEN ALEXANDRA’S GIFT

A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE FOR TOMMY

Private J W Walker, a Leeds man serving with the Scots Guards, in a letter to his mother in Servia Grove, says:

“I have just received a beautiful parcel from Queen Alexandra. There were only three for the company; one for the senior non-commissioned officer, one for the next senior, and one for the oldest soldier that has gone all through, and I happened to be the lucky one.

It contains a jersey, muffler, pair of socks, pair of mittens, comb, tin of cigarettes, tin of toffee, bootlaces, towel, matches, and a writing pad. I am writing on some of the paper thus provided.

“We are still resting. I don’t know how long it will last, for we are under orders to move at any time. I am writing to Queen Alexandra to acknowledge the receipt of the parcel.”

CHRISTMAS FARE AMID RUINS

Bombardier W Roberts, of the RFA, writing to a friend in Leeds says:

“We spent Christmas at a rest camp, and then went into action the following morning just to let the New Year in for the Germans with some of our 18 pounder pills.

We are well looked after by the people at home. They have sent us tobacco, cigarettes, and all kinds of woollen things. We had a macintosh given today to keep the rain out.

“We did not do so badly at Christmas. We had some good plum pudding, and the officers bought us some beer. Still, it was not like being at home, I can tell you.

“There isn’t a complete house in the place where we are now.

They have all been shelled and blown to bits. We are expecting to finish very shortly, as it is what we call a terrible game of chess.

If you move you are popped off by snipers - that is if you are in the infantry trenches.

Sometimes they catch you coming down a road, and then you put your number up.”