Christmas on the Western Front, 1916

Christmas on the Western Front of the Great War was never going to be a time of peace and harmony, but soldiers did what they could to honour the day. Here's an exclusive extract from the diary of Private W.J.Fletcher, 33rd Division, Bethune in France, demonstrating the ups and downs of a 'holiday season' spent at war:

“Christmas was spent quietly. I drew a load of petrol on Xmas Eve and took my diary into the MSM to sign out; he queried my lorry only doing 5 miles per gallon until he noticed other 4 tonners doing 4mpg. They were always making petty criticisms. I got a week’s letters and some parcels. A cake from Mrs Lea and a soft woollen scarf which I sent home as being too good for war and I still have it in 1934. Previously I had a pass to go back to civilisation; the QSM, Sergeant, I and mate went to Amiens for some Christmas fare and whiskey. It was a treat to see people. I went to the shop for some celery and oranges etc. and aired my French on a very pretty girl, after I had struggled to say something she said, “what is it in English, I was a long time in Devonshire before the war.” I felt a fool and soon went out. We had a meal of 6 eggs each at the expense of the QSM. He and the sergeant went off for a long time and my mate and I went into the Cathedral where people were at Confession.

On Boxing Day we did a delivery and decided to park on another site as the ground was frozen hard, we were just greasing up and clearing mud off the lorry when there was a whistle and roar and a great upheaval and a hole 30 feet by 75 feet appeared 100 yds away. Soon we heard the next whistle and laid flat, again a hole and nearer and a big piece went through the back of the lorry. We stayed under the engine but the next shell delivered a piece of hot copper driving band next to my head. We rapidly moved the lorry back to our old park and watched as the Post Office and RTO blew high into the air. This destroyed a huge number of parcels including one for the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII). I picked up the centre fuse pipe from the shell when it landed two feet from me. The attack carried on all night.”

Do you have an ancestor who served in the Great War? Find out more about what their life on the Front might have been like by browsing our Historic Documents Archive for similar personal diaries, many of which are completely free to browse:

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