Christmas in the trenches: Hearty handshakes and a sing-song

Sainsbury�"s and The Royal British Legion partner to bring  First World War Christmas truce story to life http://youtu.beNWF2JBb1bvM ANL-141219-124316001
Sainsbury�"s and The Royal British Legion partner to bring First World War Christmas truce story to life http://youtu.beNWF2JBb1bvM ANL-141219-124316001

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the Lynn News is publishing letters written by soldiers from West Norfolk as they served in the trenches at Christmas in 1914.

All of the letters were published in the Lynn Advertiser during January and February 1915.

Two letters from Lance Corporal S. M. Booer of the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, were published in the Lynn Advertiser.

In this letter to Mr and Mrs C. W. Perry, of Lynn, he writes:

Well, on Christmas Eve we went to the trenches at about 4 o’clock.

We had just had our tea and plum pudding and set about our duty and were enjoying our pipes and cigarettes. We plodded off to the trenches, raining and very cold it was, but we got talking about the old folks at home and what we should be doing if we were at home and so on.

We get down for the night except the sentries, as one in every three do an hour’s sentry at a time, and the password is “keep a sharp look out”. Now it is my relief so I get out.

My comrade says: “Listen, Syd, the Germans are calling us over there. “ Their cry was “Come on, you English and have a drop of Johnny Walker,” but we were not taking any then. They would sing at the top of their voices and shout and make all the row they possibly could, and that was amusing us, I could tell you. All this time we never had a shot over to us and we had not fired to them. They had fires like we do on gunpowder plot night and so they were making a night of it, and it was a night I shall not forget.

I finished my sentry go and turned in to leave the Germans to it. I wake up at about 4 o’clock, very cold, and they tell us it was been very quiet so we set out across to the farm and when we look in the ruined barn we find to our surprise a dozen chickens.

Of course, being Christmas morning, we say: “What about dinner?” and I suggest we must have one or two if we can make a capture. Now we dive for them and, being beautifully moonlit, we can see them through the shattered roof so anyway we get three of them and quite pleased we are with our capture.

After a little chat about our Christmas dinner we begin to light a fire and prepare breakfast which consisted of fried bacon and some of us a tin of maccaronies and make a cup of cocoa and some a canteen of tea. Anyway, we get a good breakfast on the top of our trenches and the Germans are walking about theirs and we are taking no notice of them.

It comes over very foggy in the morning and we slip across the fields to some houses that have had a shell or two in them. We find a pan and nine plates and a good pack of wood chopped already for the occasion.

We get dinner and sit and talk about home and say: “Well we are not in the cold today and our fire is a great comfort in the cold today.” I can tell you we were making up for those days when we had not had one. So the morning goes on very quiet and we are enjoying ourselves under the circumstances. With dinner very nearly ready I go to my place and get a plum pudding that the good wife has sent me and I have carried it around for about six days, or rather ten days, on purpose to have it if we were in the trenches and, of course, we were.

I don’t want to go sick, but I should like to have a little holiday to see my wife and children. It’s the hardest part of the contract to be parted from your family. But there it is, our King and Country want looking after and we are the chaps that must hold up the honour of our forefathers who had to fight for the roofs above our heads. It’s not a pleasant job but it has got to be done and I hope we shall come out victorious.

Well now we have had dinner of chickens, maccaronies and plum pudding and now we can make a pan of tea and have a chat. The fog has lifted a little and, to our surprise, we can see across to the German trenches and we can see two Germans coming across to our trenches without rifles. We watch and two of our fellows get out of their trenches and meet them a sight that was highly amusing as they shook hands as if they were brothers.

Then you ought to have seen the Germans. They came across our trenches, but not too far as it would not do to let them see too much and off we ran to see the fun. As soon as I got across I went round shaking hands as fast as I could and a fine hearty welcome they gave all us and we them.

Those that could speak English said: “They [the officers] would not give us a holiday so we have taken one. We no fight today, no fight tomorrow and no fight the next day, but after that we are enemies”.

As soon as they had shaken hands with us they handed cigars and cigarettes round as if they had a store of them, of which I think they had as they were all full of them. Anything I like on Christmas Day is a cigarette and I had all I required as I did not like to say “No”.

Well, during this little affair they formed a ring and one played a tune on his flute and they cheered him very much and now they started to sing a Christmas carol in German, but the tune was English, just as you sing it at home and it was beautiful. Your choir could not have sung it more beautifully and you could see their eyes full of tears, most them.

I should say most of them were 40 to 45 years of age and they told us they were all reserves and married men with families and would be glad when it was over.

They wanted us, by special request, to sing “It’s a long way to Tipperary” and of course they were obliged very quickly and some of them knew it just as well as us and they chimed in. I stood watching and taking all in, as I wanted to let the people of our country know just how it happened. There is no exaggeration in these few lines, it’s just as things happened on this Christmas Day of 1914.

I should say there are no lines in the Bible so nice as “Peace on earth, good will towards men”. It was proved that very day as it was a sight never before witnessed on a battlefield, I should say, and the Germans were true to their words. It was like being at home as regards quietness. Then it began to get dusk, so we had to depart after a very good Christmas Day. I shall never forget it myself. There are several of us Lynn fellows in the trenches who can write the same as I have done.