Christmas in the trenches. A Postage Fiasco – I am nearly shot.
Christmas in the trenches. I was sent to the front line with a message for Capt Cunningham. On the way I was able to take some more pictures of a village which had been pretty heavily shelled by both sides. As I waited for the reply, I chatted to the lads. They said that it had been pretty quiet for the four days they had been there – just a few snipers. We are all looking forward to Christmas and hoping for a good rest.
The last time I was in Bethune I bought some postcards to send home. One for Mother and one for Lily. They have all the allied flags embroidered on them and “Christmas Greetings”. I do hope they will like it. it makes me laugh to think that the war was supposed to be over a whole year ago and that I was so anxious to get to France before the fighting had stopped. Capt Cunningham asked to take a knapsack back for him with my reply and to deliver it safely to the officer’s quarters. It contained the valuables of the seven men who had been killed during those few days – watches, wedding rings and bibles. To be returned to their families…
It may sound strange, but there was a jolly atmosphere to Christmas week. We were out of the front line for a few days and everything was quiet – though we had been told that there would be NO REPEAT of anything that took place last year. No truce, no suspension of aggression. Not that the Black Watch had anything to do with the strange happenings last year. The weather wasn’t so bad and we were well back from the fighting. There was some concern when our post stopped for a couple of days. We are used to receiving four deliveries a day, so two days without any post was very unusual. We ere worried that parcels sent from our families would not arrive ( as we hoped to share out an excellent Christmas feast for ourselves), and also that our cards and good wishes would not teach them in time. However, the morning before Christmas two large lorries arrived, full of packages and parcels for the 4th. What a delight! I received a lovely card from Lily – a picture of a soldier being kissed by a beautiful young girl (though not as beautiful as Lily) – and a wonderful parcel from Mother.
However, the journey had not been kind. Those parcels must have had a rough crossing. Mother’s cake had been battered to a shapeless mass of crumbs, and a jar of beetroot had broken and spilled into the three pairs of good socks she had sent. Fortunately the jar of jam had survived intact, the bar of chocolate was whole and the cigarettes, once dried out were still useable. This did not just happen to me, all the parcels had suffered. The afternoon was spent trying to redress the damage – wash socks, clean vests and dry sodden food. We largely succeeded, but I was not he only soldier smoking pink cigarettes and with beetroot coloured feet.
On Christmas day itself, we attended a church service at which we were informed by Colonel Sceales that the battalion was now back u to full strength and the fourth company was being formed that very day. He received a rousing good cheer. At last we can prove our mettle again on the field! Later we received a Queen Mary Tin each, containing a Christmas card from the Royal family, chocolate, tobacco and marmite. The tin is very useful, as the lid shuts very tightly. I shall keep my pocket bible in it.
The weather was cold but dry and so after our makeshift additions do our usual bully beef lunch – and an early rum ration, we enjoyed ourselves playing football, smoking, singing and generally making merry. I took Tom and Danny over to show them my camera and the photographs, which I had had developed in Bethune. We were so engrossed , that we did not notice Capt Cunningham and Lt Smith approach. Capt Cunningham demanded to know who had taken the pictures and then told me that I could be shot as a spy. Unauthorised photography is a serious offence. He demanded that I hand over the photographs, camera and films. I only had one film left. He asked me to show him how the camera worked and so, nervously, I loaded the film into the camera. Then he insisted on Me taking a photograph of the two of them “Just to see that I knew how to do it”. And told me to get it printed the next day. He was very pleased with the result and told me that I would be allowed to take pictures, but only under orders. he would keep the camera when it was not in use. He told me that I was now the official unofficial battalion photographer!
Captain Cunningham and Lieutenant Smith.