OUT of the hundreds of Christmas Truce letters transcribed to date, the letter by Private Frederick W Heath (transcribed by Marian Robson) is perhaps the most remarkable. A beautifully-written account from the start of the truce until its end. But sadly we know nothing about Private Heath apart from his name and that his letter was published in the North Mail on Friday, January 9. We don't know his regiment or address. The North Mail was published in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear but seems to have covered the north of England and much of Scotland. The paper was incorporated into the Newcastle Daily Chronicle in 1922.
I had almost given up hope on tracing Pte Heath. The trail had gone cold (see early entries of this blog) and there seemed no way forward. Then our good friend John Krijnen got in touch with a breakthrough. I quote his letter here and will add more exciting details very shortly..
"I have checked the Medal Rolls and can find only one Frederick William Heath who was in France at the time of the Christmas Truce. He is 1801 Pte Frederick William Heath of the Kensingtons (13th London Regiment, Territorial Force), enlisted c.05 August 1914, resident at 10 Baron's Court Road. See his index card (attached) and Google Street View.
As several battalions of the London Regt (Kensingtons, Post Office Rifles, Civil Service Rifles, Westminster Rifles, Artists Rifles to name but a few) had a better, distinctly more educated class of privates than the regular infantry, I consider him a very likely candidate. He must have been much above the already high average to end the war as a Major.
But there is more.
The German 158th Brigade mentioned in the Heath letter was in fact the 158th Infantry Regiment (its German title was 7. Lothringisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 158), which was part of 13th (Westphalian) Infantry Division, 7th Corps, 2nd Army. A German regiment had the same strength as a British brigade, hence the confusion. The men would have had the number 158 on their helmet covers.
During Christnas 1914 the 13th Infantry Divisionheld the line between Fromelles and les Bois Blancs. On the British side the line was held by the 8th Division (which included the 13th Londons).
In other words, we may just have found Pte Heath. How his letter ended up in the Northern Mail is another question. Perhaps it was sent to a friend who was a subscriber."