The Abergavenny Chronicle Letters: Part II

Two letters published in the Abergavenny Chronicle in January 1915 describe what Christmas was like for those fighting. On Friday 8th January 1915 a letter written by Corporal Bert Watkins, who was fighting at Armentieres with the 2nd Monmouthshire Battalion, to his father in Abergavenny was published. Watkins wrote that on Christmas Day they

received orders from the Brigadier not to fire unless we were bound to, so we got quite ‘pally’ with the Germans, shaking hands and a lot of other things. One chap gave a German corporal a tin of No 1 Army rations […] You should have seen him collar it and put it into his pocked like as if he was starving.

The goodwill and amity between the English and German soldiers was in stark contrast to the reminders of the horrors of war that surrounded them. Watkins described in his letter that to his left, there were ‘dozens’ of German war dead ‘stretched out’ for burial, ‘in fact so many that they could not bury them all’. The absurd contrast between the jollity of Christmas, with its message of peace and goodwill to all men, and the brutality of war is perfectly captured in Bert’s remark to his father, ‘Rather a funny day for burying the dead isn’t it?’.

Another letter published on 8th January 1915, written by Signaller Edwin H Pearce of the 2nd Monmouth Territorials to his parents, also captures the stark contrast of Christmas on the Front. Pearce writes of his luck at spending Christmas Day at headquarters and not with his battalion, who were in the trenches and engaged in combat. Instead, he spent Christmas attached to the Royal Engineers, and this group of 100 men enjoyed a Christmas dinner that would have provided a welcome contrast to the meagre rations usually endured. Pearce writes that they had,

7 geese, three pieces of roast beef and potatoes, so we had a good feed all in style with a table too and plenty of pudding. We had tea in style too, and a smoking concert from 6.30 until 11, food, plenty of fags and tobacco and a good sing-song.

An additional 100 men attended the concert, making a group of 200, and they were provided with ‘3 barrels of beer between them’. Spirits were no doubt high, with Pearce writing that he must have been ‘the only teetotaller there’. While the idea of the Christmas Day truce of 1914 has become an enduring symbol of the First World War, these letters show that while for many soldiers it did provide a day that was out of the ordinary, the brutality of war was never far away.

Read the letters in full

Read about another letter published in the Chronicle