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Written by Jim Woolley   
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 22:23

Christmas 1914

The end of the year marked the beginning of a new phase of the Great War. The euphoric outpourings of August had been replaced by a much more realistic view of things. The War had not been “all over by Christmas”, and the loss of a number of our major ships and the bombardment of east coast towns by the German Navy had cast doubt on the long held belief that “Britain Ruled The Waves” and that the Royal Navy would always keep us safe. The civilian loss of life caused by the bombardments was causing growing concern among the wider population as they began to realise that we were no longer the invincible little island they had always believed.

The Christmas Truce of 1914

The media has made much of the events of Christmas 1914 and as usual they concentrate on the more sensational aspects, with much talk of football matches amongst the combatants and mass fraternisation. This did occur in a few places but for the majority it was a much more reserved affair.

In general, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were quiet, without the usual artillery bombardments and sniping. There are numerous reports of the two sides serenading each other with carols, of the exchange of “good wishes” tossed into the opposite trenches and of Christmas Trees appearing above the parapets. The situation was basically one of “if you don’t fire at us, we won’t fire at you”, rather than anything else. In a number of places, the two sides took the opportuning to collect and bury the dead lying out in “no man’s land”, both out of respect and to remove a health hazard. Where the “Truce” is mentioned in letters from the Front, it is invariably something that they had heard about happening some way along the line or, much less frequently, something that the battalion next to them had done. Every Tommy didn’t have a football in his kitbag for just such occasions !

And it certainly didn’t happen again in the following years. As can be imagined, the Generals were horrified when the learned what was happening and the Press had a field day. “British Tommies playing football with those beastly unspeakable Baby-Killing Huns”! In future there would be no cease fire during the Festive Season, it would be “Business as Usual”.

Comforts For Our Boys At The Front

As mentioned in the December Gazette, groups were mobilised to support “our boys” and to show that they were not being forgotten by those “at Home”.

The Old Ottregians’ Society sent a “Christmas” gift of tobacco, cigarettes, pipe, pouch, matches, and a copy of their Quarterly Journal to all of our servicemen and a number wrote letters by return to show their appreciation. A number of these letters were published locally at the time and several of the more interesting ones are reproduced here.

From Sgt T.J.Basting, Royal Marine Light Infantry, at Groningen, Holland :

“Many thanks for your present, which I have received allright. I must say that we are all here in pretty good health, and looking forward to the end of the war, thanking you again. I remain, ….”

Thomas J Basting, of West Hill Stores, went to Antwerp with the Naval Brigade in 1914 in a vain attempt to help the Belgians ; the Brigade crossed into neutral Holland rather than surrender to the Germans and were interned for the rest of the war.

From Pte G.McLaughlin [identified as 8472 George McLaughlin, 2nd Devons, from Maybole, Ayrshire]

“Just a few lines to let you know that I received the box that was sent to Pte H.Salter, as he was killed in action, and sooner than send it back the Sergt.Major handed it over to me as I was his chum, I remain, …”

Harold Lionel Salter and George served together in the 2nd Devons, having both enlisted circa 1908 ; Harold died of wounds 1st February 1915, before he could receive his gift, and is buried in Aubers Ridge British Cemetery, Northern France. George survived the war.

Can You Help ?

  1. If you have any further information or a photograph of either Thomas Basting or Harold Lionel Salter I would be pleased to hear from you.
  2. I have been researching the service of James Ross, son of Hugh Ross of Christow, Sidmouth Junction. He was killed in action on the 9th October 1917, serving with the West Yorkshire Regiment. He was born in Gosport, Hampshire, circa 1890, but I have no further information on James or on his father Hugh. Can you help ?
  3. In researching James Ross, I came across a Sergt Ross listed in the local press as being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1918/19. Do you know who this man is ?

If you think you can help me with any of these men, please call me on 01404 812176.