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ESSEX
OUR thanks to Gordon Platoon History Society who have covered the January 1915 newspapers found in the Colchester archive. These include The Essex County Standard, The Essex Chronicle and The Essex County Telegraph.

The members of Gordon Platoon History Society that took part in the project are: Rebecca Kashani, Andrew Frew, James Wynne, Brian O' Neill, Joe Wade, Ronnie Laverty, Aiden Poulton, Christopher Scott, Ryan Spensley and Michael Thomas.

Essex County Chronicle, Friday, 15th January, 1915

THE WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES:
Sergt. A. Lovell, A Company, 3rd Rifle Brigade, writing to relatives at Walthamstow, on Christmas Day,  says: "Christmas Day! The most wonderful day on record.  In the early hours of the morning the events of last night appeared as some weird dream – but to-day, well, it beggars description.  You will hardly credit what I am going to tell you.  Listen.  Last night as I sat in my little dug-out, writing, my chum came bursting in upon me with: “Bob! hark at ‘em!”  And I listened.  From the German trenches came the sound of music and singing.  My chum continued.  “They’ve got Christmas trees all along the top of their trenches I Never saw such a sight!”.  Climbing the parapet, I saw a sight which I shall remember to my dying day.  Right along the whole of their line were hung paper lanterns and illuminations of every description, many of them in such positions as to suggest that they were hung upon Christmas trees.

GERMANS ASK FOR TIPPERARY

And as I stood in wonder a rousing song came over to us - The Watch on the Rhine. Our boys answered with a cheer, while a neighbouring regiment sang lustily the National Anthem.   Some were for shooting the lights away, but almost at the first shot there came a shout in really good English:  “Stop shooting!”.    Then began a series of answering shouts from trench to trench.  It was incredible.  “Halloo! Halloo! you English; we wish to speak.” And everyone began to speak at once.   Some were rational, others the reverse to complimentary.  Eventually some sort of order obtained, and lo!  A party of our men got out from the trenches and invited the Germans to meet them half-way and talk.  And there in the searchlight they stood, Englishman and German, chatting and smoking cigarettes together midway between the lines. A rousing cheer went up from a friend and foe alike.  The group was too far away for me to hear what was said, but presently we heard a cheery “Good-night.”  A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all,” with which the parties returned to their respective trenches.    After this we remained the whole night through singing with the enemy song for song.   “Give us Tipperary”, they cried.  Whereupon an adjacent Irish regiment let loose a tremendous “whoop,” and complied with the request in a way as only Irishmen can.

The Essex Chronicle, Friday 8th January, 1915

THE GRIM SIDE OF WAR: Another soldier at the front writing home gives similar experiences of the un-official Christmas Day Truce between the British and German soldiers. “On Christmas Eve” says the writer, “It froze hard, and Christmas day dawned on an appropriately sparkling landscape. The dead on both sides had been lying out in the open since the fierce night fighting of a week earlier. When I got out I found a large crowd of officers and men, English and German, grouped around the bodies, which had already been gathered together and laid out in rows. It was a ghastly sight. The digging parties were busy on the two big common graves, but the ground was hard and the work was slow and laborious. In the intervals of superintending it we chatted with the Germans, most of whom were quite affable. The digging completed, the graves were filled in, and the German officers remained to pay their tribute of respect while our chaplain read a short service. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed. Friend and foe stood side by side, bare-headed, watching tall, grave figure of the padre outlined against the frosty landscape as he blessed the poor broken bodies at his feet. Then with more formal salutes we turned and made our way back to out respective ruts.”

Essex Chronicle, 15th January, 1915

PASTOR'S SON IN THE FIRING LINE: Corpl. A. Ashford, a Thaxted Territorial, son of Roy. C. Ashford, Congregational minister, writes home as follows:- “It is only by means of my diary that I have been able to tell what Day it is. I am seeing heaps of interesting things and am quite fit, happy, and well fed, but rather footsore after three days marching. Now we are billeted in farms, two dozen of us in a little shed, and we have plenty of straw and a blanket each. We have been absolutely besieged by aeroplanes, and every time one appeared we had to duck under cover. On November 24 we went into the wet trenches in the firing line. We recruits share the same dangers as the seasonal soldiers of our regiment, and we had plenty of sniping at the enemy. We cannot have fires in the trenches in the firing line, but we do in the communication trenches. We sleep in dug-outs lined with straw (when obtainable), or waterproof sheets, or boards, five together generally, wrapped in our overcoats and one blanket. Food is good and plentiful, all things considered, but we very glad of ‘goodies’ from home, sent in small parcels, as big ones are not given to us in the trenches. We remained in the trenches until December 12, when we came out for five days’ rest. I had scarcely had my boots off all the time, or wash or shave, but a good rest in dry billets soon set me up again. After the few days’ rest we were back in the trenches again, about 700 yards from the enemy. Here we were on Christmas day, and a jolly time we had. We had a ripping dinner of real good hot stew, home plum pudding and other ‘goodies’. We had a mutual understanding with the Germans not to shoot, and went out past our firing line, talking to them and exchanging greetings, chocolate, and cigarettes, and we also sang carols and hymns at their request. It was good to have peace on Christmas Day. I have had cards from the King and Queen and a present from Princess Mary; all these I shall treasure. On December 26 we came out the trenches again and marched four miles to the other side of the big town we have been near, and we are now in comfortable billets. Last night we had to go out in supports, so off we went out onto a road swept by searchlights, which we had to avoid by lying flat in the mud, to a farm close to the firing line. We spent the night in a barn in full equipment, but were not disturbed.”  

Essex County Chronicle, Friday 15 January, 1915

GERMANS WHO PLAYED THE GAME: Pvt. Farnden, of the Rifle Brigade, writing to his parents at Leyton, says:-  “We had a very decent Christmas Day in the trenches.  We had Christmas puddings sent up to us and a few of the boys and myself managed to hot them up, and with some sausage and potatoes and brussels sprouts, which we succeeded in foraging from a farm, we had a very good dinner.  On Christmas Eve we were surprised to see Christmas trees alight on the tops of the enemy’s trenches. Some of the Germans (139th Saxon Regiment) shouted to our fellows to come over and have a drink and a smoke. They turned the searchlight on, and some of our boys went out and met them half-way. The first German who came along threw his arms around one of our chap’s neck and kissed him. Next they offered us cigars. On Christmas Day we were out of the trenches along with the Germans, some of whom had a song and dance, while two of our platoons had a game of football. It was surprising to see the German soldiers - some appeared old, others were boys, and others wore glasses. But they ‘played the game’ for that they, and some of them even went as far as to state they would not shoot so long as our regiment was on that particular set of trenches. A number of our fellows have got addresses from the Germans and are going to try and meet one another after the war.”

Essex County Standard, January 23rd, 1915

GERMAN'S CHRISTMAS EVE GREETING: Writing to relatives at Colchester, Pvt. F.J.Podd, of Scottish Rifles (Cameronians), describes his experiences at the front, and says:- “We had a fire in the trenches on Christmas Eve and were singing, not taking the precautions we usually do. We were standing up and were visible to the enemy, when a machine gun was turned on us. Not much damage was done, but a bullet just skimmed the top of my head. On Christmas night I was on picket from five p.m. till six a.m. There was a sharp frost that night and I was frozen to the bone.”

The Essex County Telegraph, January 12th 1915

GERMANS AND THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE: The Taegliebe Rundschau, in a long article, points out the danger which lies in fraternisation between Germans and French, and greetings such as were recently exchanged between the trenches.
“War is no sport,” says the journal, “and we are sorry to say that those who made these
overtures, or took part in them, did not clearly understand the gravity of the situation.” These considerations did not escape the attention of the army authorities, and the newspaper states, with great satisfaction, that an Army Order issued on December 29th forbids for the future similar fraternisation, and any rapprochement with the enemy in the trenches. All acts contrary to this order will be punished in high treason.

The Essex Chronicle, Friday 15th January, 1915

GERMAN BAND IN THE TRENCHES: Lance Corpl. J. S. Calder, 5th City of London Rifle Brigade, Writes to relatives at Wanstead :– “What a strange Christmas Eve it was! Soldiers from both sides singing to each other, songs, hymns, and carols, and walking around bonfires. We came out of the trenches later on in the evening, and went into supports. And for once, we were sorry to leave the trenches for we felt ‘Christmas day’ in the trenches was going to be a remarkable day, Even on Christmas Eve the firing ceased by common consent. At about two o’clock on Christmas morning a German band came out of the trenches and played carols, ‘Home Sweet Home,’ ‘Christmas, awake,’ etc.  It was wonderful to hear. Some of our men who wear in the trenches on Christmas Day told us the Germans were a fine set of fellows, and many could talk good English.”

Essex County Standard, 2 January, 1915

ESSEX COUNTY FRATERNIZE WITH FRITZ: Private H. Scrutton Essex Regiment writes to relatives at Wood Green, N.:- “As I have told you before, our trenches are only 30 or 40 yards away from the Germans. This led to an exciting incident the other day. Our fellows have been in the habit of shouting across to the enemy, and we used to get answers from them. We were to to get into conversation with them, and this is what happened:-
From our trenches, “Good morning, Fritz,” (no answer), “Good Morning, Fritz,” (and still no answer). “GOOD MORNING, FRITZ,” From the German Trenches:  “Good morning.”
From our trench: “How are you?”
“All right.”
“Come over here, Fritz.”
“No, if I come, I get shot.”
“No, you won’t, come on.”
“No fear”
“Come and get some fags, Fritz.”
“No, you come half-way, and I meet you.”
“All right.”
One of our fellows thereupon filled his pocket with fags and got over the trench, The German got over his trench; and right enough, they met half-way, and shook hands, Fritz taking the fags and giving chocolate in exchange. t was good to see the Germans standing on top of their trenches and the English, also with caps waving in the air, all cheering. About 18 of our men went half-way and met about the same number of Germans, This lasted about half-an-hour, when each side returned to their trenches to shoot at each other again.”

 

IF you would like to take part in this project by helping to transcribe such letters from your local archives, send an email to info@christmastruce.co.uk to register your interest.

 
 

 

THE ENTHUSIASTS
Details of who is taking part in the project and which papers they have researched. .

OTHER WORKS
Details of books, articles, films and websites about the Christmas Truce and its impact..