Sadly, aside from the unique example of the 1914 Christmas truce on the Western front, war usually has no regard for Christmas. Of the 1,000 Portsmouth soldiers, sailors and airmen who I have so far researched, these three men died on Christmas Day.
Corporal Robert Davison, from Milton, was a Royal Marine onboard HMS Berwick when he was killed 25 December 1940. At the time HMS Berwick was serving in North West Approaches. Davison must have died and been buried at sea, as he has no grave and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
Private George Griffin, 21 and from Milton, was serving in the 1st Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Burma when he was killed on 25 December 1941, fighting the Japanese. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Rangoon Memorial.
Petty Officer Frederick Bulbeck, 35 and from Drayton, died on 25 December 1945. He was serving onboard HMS Zodiac, a Zambesi class Destroyer. He died after the war had ended, and is buried in Hamburg War Cemetery, Germany.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
A scene from the 1914 Christmas truce
On 24 December 1914, German troops on the Western front near Ypres began dressing their trenches with decorations. They then began singing carols, and the English troops opposite replied. After shouting christmas greetings, visits were made across no mans land, where small gifts were exchanged. Artillery was silent for the night, and an unofficial truce fell into place. In some places football matches were even played out in between the barbed wire.
The events had an incredible impact on British and German culture. Generals were horrified, and forbade any future unofficial truces. The fact remains, however, that the Christmas truce proved one thing – the private soldiers on each side had more in common with each other than they did with their own Generals. They were all far from home, stuck in the same squalid trenches, facing the same dangers.
In the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, the protagonists discuss events of the past that led them to their current situation, including the Christmas Truce. Captain Blackadder was apparently still sore over being ruled offside during a football game with the Germans. He also cynically muses that “Both sides advanced further during one Christmas piss-up than they did in the next two-and-a half years of war.”
On 11 November 2008, the first official Truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, the site of a Christmas Truce football game in 1914. After the unveiling and a Service of Remembrance, men from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) played a football match with the German Panzergrenadier Battalion 371. The Germans won, 2-1.
A very Happy Christmas to you all, wherever you are – especially all of the men and women who are far from home this Christmas, in harms way. Stay safe, and come home soon.