Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas Message from James

After I’ve had a few days of down time over christmas – which for me constitutes divorcing myself from the laptop for a few days! – I have had a chance to sit back and reflect on what an amazing year it has been.

This time last year I had just started work on my first book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’. The contract was inked in January, and after a mammoth effort the book was handed into the publishers in June. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about the writing process, the publishing industry and much more besides! In particular, in future I would give myself much more time, and in particular, I would try not to move house three days before the hand-in date!

After a bit of a rest – including a nice trip to the Dartmoor Folk Festival, and settling in to my new quarters in Chichester, I have started work on my project looking at Portsmouth’s fallen heroes from the Great War. Research is still ongoing, and I am still considering how best to present this research, but I do very much have my eyes on the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1 in 2014, or the 100th anniversary of the Somme in 2016.

The most popular topics on my blog this year have been ‘The Sinking of the Laconia‘, a BBC docu-drama in January, and the visit of the US Aircraft Carrier George H.W. Bush to the Solent in May. Anything to do with the Falklands seems to go down pretty well. Sadly I haven’t been able to post as much as I would like, due to work commitments, lack of internet at times of the year, etc, I am still pretty pleased with the hit rate I am getting. But I won’t pre-empt my review of the year, which rightly belongs on new years eve.

When I think back to the time that I started this blog, it’s almost like it was a different person who started it. I literally began blogging through boredom, and thought that if I was going to spend my mid-twenties singledom reading military books and visiting museums, I had might as well do something constructive with it. Now, over two years later, my first book is due out in a little more than a month, I’ve written text for display at the Spinnaker Tower, and certainly by no means least, I have moved in with my Girlfriend Sarah. I don’t mind admitting that when I started my blog in the summer of 2009 I was still recovering from a period of suffering from some pretty severe depression. Realising that what I have to say interests people has motivated me more than anyone could ever know, and its certainly helped me move on and up in life. I just want anyone reading this to know, that if you really want to achieve something, you can if you work hard enough. It doesn’t matter what illness you may suffer from, or what school you went to, or where you grew up. True, that might mean that you might have to work harder, but in the process you will have earnt it so much more.

I would like to thank you all for your support, participation and kindness throughout the past twelve months. You all really help make it happen. I am always very interested to hear comments, feedback, ideas or the like. We live in a very uncertain and very unpredictable world, and it has never been more important for us to champion the understanding of the past, and in particular study and understanding of military history.

From my Girlfriend Sarah and I, a very happy Christmas to you all.

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Military Wives Choir – Wherever You Are

I have been asked to give this a plug, which I am more than happy to do. It’s a lovely idea, and a nice song to boot. Lets make it christmas number one instead of whatever rubbish Simon Cowell is peddling at us this year! I like how there’s such a cross section of lady’s in the choir, and Iespecially¬† love the bit at the start with the tattooed lady singing solo – I bet there are plenty of classicial afficianados doing a double take at that one!


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HMS Ocean – All I want for Christmas

This video has been doing the rounds in the UK and beyond this week. After being sent on what was planned to be a seven week deployment to exercise in the Med, HMS Ocean and her crew found themselves involved in the war against Colonel Gadaffi. The ship is due to return to Plymouth tomorrow after seven months away – a long time in modern naval deployments – just in time for christmas. Apparently even Mariah Carey herself has given her blessing via Twitter!

Typical British military rank and file humour from Jack Tar and Jenny Wren!

And while we’re on the subject of HMS Ocean, here’s something completely mental!

 

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They died on Christmas Day (1914-1919)

Last year on Christmas Day I made a blog post about the men from Portsmouth who were killed on Christmas Day during the Second World War. Out of 2,549 men and women, 3 men died on 25 December.

Yet when I went to search through my WW1 Database, something remarkable transpired. Not one man out of the 2,101 I have so far researched died on Christmas Day between 1914 and 1919. Given the extreme number of casualties suffered by the British Army on the Western Front and elsewhere, this is quite a surprise to say the least.

Many men did die very close to Christmas, however:

Private Arthur Frederick Merriot, 1st Bn Gloucestershire Regiment, 19 and from Boulton Road, Southsea. Killed on 23 December 1914, and remembered on the Le Touret Memorial.

Private Edward Victor Emis, 2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment, 20 and from Forton Road, Kingston. Killed on 26 December 1914, and remembered on the Le Touret Memorial.

Driver Sidney John Walter Budden, 5th ‘C’ Reserve Brigade Royal Field Artillery, 22 and from Craswell Street, Landport. Died on 26 December 1916, buried in Kingston Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Bombardier William Davey, Royal Field Artillery, from Lucknow Street, Fratton. Killed on 24 December 1917, buried in Kingston Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Corporal N.S. Gibson, 1/4th Bn Hampshire Regiment, 24 and from Eastleigh. Killed on 26 December 1917, buried in Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery.

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Christmas in the Trenches by Alan Wakefield

 

One of the most eponymous – and in some ways, most tragic – images of the First World War is that of the Christmas Truce in 1914. A real-life event, the Christmas Truce has taken on an almost mythical status, to the extent where it was even featured in mournful conversation during the classic last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. The term ‘home by christmas’ also entered popular consciousness during the Great War.

The 1914 Christmas Truce really did happen. It began in an unplanned manner, with Tommy and Fritz initially not firing upon each other, and then exchanging compliments across no-mans-land, then advancing to meet each other and pass the time of day. Men swapped gifts, and in places even played football matches. There is something very warming and innocent about the Christmas Truce, in the early days of the war when men had hoped that the war would be over in time for them to be home by Christmas Day.

The British authorities were horrified by the truce. Heaven forbid that men might realise that their enemies were human just like them – it might make it harder to fight and kill them. In future years the Generals issued stern edicts forbidding fraternisation, to the point of threatening court martials, even to the point of treason. Despite this in 1915 there were attempts to renew the Christmas Truce, ironically enough by units of the Guards Division. This incident caused a minor scandal.

But where this book is important is the broader emphasis, looking at Christmas during wartime, and not just in 1914 on the Western Front. There are some fascinating stories about how men made the most of Christmas during wartime, even in the front-line trenches. There is something pretty stirring about how British troops always seemed to be able to find themselves a Turkey for Christmas Day. Loved ones at home were also able to send parcels and comforts, thanks to the British Forces enviable postal system. The King and commanders also made a habit of issuing seasonal christmas messages to their troops, and Wakefield has quoted from many of them.

And not only were British troops serving on the Western Front in France and Belgium. During the First World War British and Commonwealth troops spent Christmas in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Salonika, Italy, East and West Africa, Palestine and after the Armistice also in Germany with the occupation forces and in North Russia. The men spending Christmas in far-flung parts of the globe in particular must have felt far from home and their loved ones.

Excellent use is made of photographs in the Imperial War Museum‘s collections, of christmas cards sent home from the front, and also of soldiers diaries and personal accounts. Perhaps one area where the author could have expanded on is that of Christmases spent at sea by sailors of the Royal Navy – there must be plenty of photographs and accounts in sailors diaries, and the senior service definitely has more than its fair share of christmas traditions. Apart from that, this book is a very useful social history of the First World War, but with lessons that resonate far beyond that conflict.

Christmas has traditionally been a time when people take stock of the year just gone, the year to come and where they are in life. Christmas is also a time to think of those less fortunate than us, such as the British troops serving in Afghanistan over Christmas. Christmas also has to be a time when we pause to think that British troops have been serving over christmas for hundreds of years, and – sadly – probably will continue to do so for years to come.

Christmas in the Trenches is published by The History Press

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Sorry about the lack of posts recently guys, I’m just shaking off a nasty chest infection. Bear with me, hopefully I’ll have plenty of opportunity over Christmas – and with the girlfriend away for three weeks :( – to make up for lost time.

Has anyone got any requests or suggestions for a Christmas series, like last year’s popular ‘Falklands: Then and Now’ set of articles? Think like the Open University Xmas lectures, just without the courdroys and less facial hair (unless I can’t be bothered to shave over christmas!)

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The Christmas Day truce

A scene from the 1914 Christmas truce

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.

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