Christmas at the Front: The Fifth Glosters in 1915 - Kathryn's history blog

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas at the Front: The Fifth Glosters in 1915

Christmas 1915, from the Fifth Gloster Gazette:
'Christmas was spent out of the trenches at the rest village, and our celebration of the festival began on Christmas Eve when a party from the Bucks Battalion gave a capital concert, which was much enjoyed by a large audience. The Bucks are to be congratulated on possessing so good a party of entertainers.'
'On Christmas Day, the powers that be cancelled all working parties, and consequently the day was a real holiday. Several Church services were held and at the parade service at ten o'clock, the new Divisional Band distinguished itself by its accompaniment of the musical portions of the service and its playing of the opening and closing voluntaries. In the evening, our own carol party, under Captain Mitcheson, gave an excellent rendering of carols. During the day to football matches were played.
'Christmas fare was provided for the Companies, though a roast dinner was postponed until the new year. Altogether the day was spent in as joyous and festive a manner as was possible under the circumstances, though many thoughts naturally turned towards home.'
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Bus-les-Artois, 1900
The fifth battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment spent Christmas 1915 in Bus-les-Artois, behind the front in the north of the Somme sector. They would visit this village frequently, when taking leave from the trenches at Hebuterne, and would stay in billets. The war diary is always light on detail when they are staying in 'Bus' as it was always referred, and Christmas Day was no exception. It said shortly:
'In billets. Weather Showery. Capt HCB Sessions and Lieut Snowden went on leave.'

The extract from the Fifth Gloster Gazette suggests that the men had as relaxed a Christmas as one could have while at war, with no duty and games of football. Chaplains reported throughout the war that Christmas Day (and Easter Sunday) services were much better attended than they regularly were, with even bombed out churches being crowded with men. Bands were also often engaged, providing cheer to the soldiers.

'A rollicking and merry Christmas was spent especially by Nos. 7 and 8 Sections of No. 2 Platoon. 
In the evening they arranged a dinner and a Concert which was most ably presided over by Corporal Harries. The menu consisted of Chicken, Rabbit and Fish, etc. Nobody enquired at to how the rabbits were obtained. This was followed by Sweets, which included  Pears, Pineapple, Mince Pies, Xmas pudding, etc. (Bravo! Transport). At the finish of dinner the men in their most comfortable positions started the Concert. Cigarettes and suitable drinks were supplied at intervals and songs were sung by prolific artists, among whom are included Corpl. Nash, who rendered "Take me Back to Dear Old Portland", Corpl. Harries "My  Silver Bell", and Pte. Smith, "Little Grey Home in the West", etc.'

No. 2 Platoon seem to have had a merry time with a wonderful spread of food. Sweets and cigarettes were often received in packages which had been arranged by local groups back home. Each November the Dursley Gazette would put out a call for donations and calling for women to knit scarves and gloves for the men. The following January this would be followed by thank you messages from local men who had been given the Christmas gifts. They were regularly filled with chocolate, cigarettes, cake, some knitwear, and maybe a small prayer book or pamphlet. 
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Gloster soldiers (source)
No. 3 Platoon also enjoyed a good dinner. 'The table was then cleared, and liquid refreshments and smokes having been produced, Sergt. Meadows rose to propose the first toast, "The King". Then Pte Gough rose and called upon all to drink to "Our fallen comrades". He referred to those comrade who had made the supreme sacrifice, whom those of us who knew and loved them can never forget. This toast was drunk in silence. Pte Blackwell then proposed "The friends at home" and the toast having been drunk, the real fun commenced!
'Our old friend and late Platoon Sergeant, Provost-Sergeant Stevens, rendered several comic songs in his inimitable style, and L-Corpl Jackson obliged with the old favourite "If I were a Blackbird".
'...The Commanding Officer looked in during the evening and expressed himself as being delighted to see the men having such a good time.We had received a visit from Captain Collett earlier in the evening and he also seemed astonished at the manner in which the barn had been decorated, and at the excellence of the catering. Altogether the evening was a most enjoyable one, and although this has of necessity been very different from previous Christmastides, I think we can say that No. 3 Platoon at any rate spent "A Happy Christmas".'

In all, it appears that the 5th Glosters did have a happy Christmas, despite the circumstances of war. The battalion was yet to serve in a major offensive and their war had thus far consisted mostly of entrenching and holding the line. The Somme was also quiet at this time; there was little sign of what was to come in the following year of 1916.

Kathryn

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