Monday, 31 December 2012

Welcome to the New Year ... 2013 and 1918

Happy New Year everyone and may your 2013 be a good one.
Before I turn the clocks back to the First World War, here's a bit of festive whimsy from this century which I hope you enjoy - just click the arrow. What did your decorations get up to when your back was turned? 

And so to the Great War and below is a card - with ribbon still attached - sent home from Europe by an Australian soldier in 1918, the year that finally saw the end to a war so terrible that it's hard to imagine how anyone could have lived through it. The card is from a marvellous collection belonging to Lorraine Judge, an Australian family historian. I look forward to bringing you lots more interesting bits and pieces from my research during the coming 12 months, and I will also let you know how my book is progressing now that the writing stage has just begun. Happy New Year.

Friday, 21 December 2012

'Remembering absent friends at Christmas'

This week here's another of the Christmas letters George Lamb sent home to his family in Canada. The year is now 1917 and at last he's arrived in France, enjoying Christmas in fine style but also remembering absent friends. Tragically, this was to be his final Christmas. George Lamb was killed in action the following March, aged 22. His-larger-than-life personality comes alive in the letters he wrote home, though, and George will be one of the stars of my book. (For his 1916 Christmas letter, see last week's post.)

'Our menu was everything
that could be expected'

December 26, 1917

My Dear Mother,

As you will see by the date Xmas is over and although it was my first one in France, I hope I shall enjoy my next one as well in Canada. Our menu was everything that could be expected and the quantity was plenty, I wished I had one of the menus, in fact I remember now I have it, so will enclose it. You could not imagine the good time we had, several of the old faces were absent, but at the same time we have to expect casualties, and perhaps a greater percentage next year when our smashing will begin for a clean sweep.

The officers and sergeants acted mess orderlies and of course we made them all reply with speeches, which they did. In the evening a couple or so of us journeyed out to a little estaminet [cafe] where there are two of the nicest girls I have seen in France. They were driven from some Belgian city, have plenty of money, well educated and so obliging and different from most of the French over here. It was a fine finish after such a good day as we had.

Winter has settled in for good alright now, snow has fallen about four to six inches and although it is not so cold, the melting and snowing again make it disagreeable for the feet. One thing I felt glad about is when the 22nd of December, the shortest day, had finished and from now on we shall be getting longer days although it won't have much effect for awhile.

I suppose you received my card by now, it was kind of late coming. I only had two, it was all I could get, I sent the other to Cassie [his fiancee]. I haven't had any Xmas parcels from anyone. I suppose the mail will be tied up for a while, so much to handle. I had one from Aunt Alice in England, also several letters, she has been very good indeed to me and I wished you would write her once in awhile.

I am helping fix up cars to-day so must get back to work or I'll get fired. Very little news these days only that the war is still going on and glad that conscription passed in Canada.

With fond love to all, I am as ever your loving son George.

Friday, 14 December 2012

'Mud, booze and a bawling-out at Christmas'

Christmas was a testing time for soldiers and nurses during the First World War, especially if they had never been away from home before, and particularly if 'home' was thousands of miles away.

This week's post features a letter written by a Canadian soldier, 21-year-old George Lamb, at Christmas 1916 when he was in Kent, England, waiting to be posted to the front. Although he was missing home, he certainly wasn't feeling sorry for himself and his letter gives a peep at what Christmas was like in a camp full of men. 
Lamb was a larger-than-life character and his letters were always colourful and interesting. You'll be able to read more in my book.

Next week I'll post a letter Lamb sent to his mother a year later, Christmas 1917, when he'd been at the front for eight months.

December 27, 1916

My Dear Father,
Xmas has just passed and a very poor one it was for me, although under the circumstances as good as could be expected. Things were not realistic, the weather conditions were not as usual, the environment and surroundings were entirely different from my previous Xmas. Where I was always looking for a nice skate in the afternoon at home here we were trailing around in the mud.

I was on duty as Cpl of the Guards the day before, and was glad my turn had come that day instead of yesterday, when about 90% were extremely happy, in fact they were too saturated with booze to be anything else, it flowed around like water and officers and all were in the swim making it one jolly glorification of their first and perhaps last Xmas in khaki.

I got into a jackpot the day before, a sergeant bawled me out without reason in a rough shod manner and I told him in exchange that he wasn’t dealing with convicts now, as he was previous to enlisting employed as jail warden. This made him mad and he told a man off to put me under arrest, but as I studied what crime I was up against I prepared my defense and he knew I was right and he was wrong, so at the last minute before I was to come up before the OC [officer in charge] he withdrew the charge.
I have not got to France as yet, am earnestly waiting my chance. Fifty more of our boys went across the day before Xmas. I am beginning to think the war is very nearly over, as Germany is getting quite strong for peace, and by this morning’s paper, I see where neutrals have also butted in proclaiming that it should come soon.

I had a lovely parcel from Doris yesterday full of all nice things which are impossible to get over here. I have had seven in all, and they were all full of eatables and useful soldiers articles, its so nice to have friends and I will sure repay them if I get back to the old sod.
We are still getting lots of physical drill to keep us in trim, its great dope and I like it the best of any work we have. I still hear from Uncle Will and Flora and twice a week from Cassie & mother & sister, so I am pretty well informed.  I wrote a letter to the Plumas Standard [Canadian newspaper] a while ago. I don’t know whether he would publish it or not. I struck the slackers [Canadians who hadn't joined up] pretty hard. 
Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Canadian winters were a thing of the past for George Lamb
'In England we are trailing around in the mud,' he wrote


Friday, 7 December 2012

Read all about it, my top reads of the year!

Cramming 10 years' worth of reading into one!
I've been researching my book for around six months now, and in that time I've probably crammed in more reading than I have during the last 10 years!

A great deal of it has been original letters and diaries from 1914 to 1918 of course. But I've also done a fair amount of background reading, which has meant putting on hold my (slow) progress through the works of Dickens. I'm pleased to say, though, that the First World War has proved just as engrossing.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, I thought it would be interesting to list some of the titles that I have enjoyed most. Please feel free to leave your own favourites in the comments section at the end.

  • FISHER'S FACE by Jan Morris - a portrait of Lord 'Jacky' Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet and a huge figure at the turn of the century, by an author who has always been transfixed by his face.

  • NOW ALL ROADS LEAD TO FRANCE, The Last Years of Edward Thomas, by Matthew Hollis - a beautifully crafted biography about a poet often overshadowed by Sassoon and Owen.

  • THE FIRST DAY OF THE SOMME, by Martin Middlebrook - military history at its best, the story of July 1 1916, when Britain suffered 60,000 casualties on the Western Front.

  • TRENCHES TO TRAMS, The Life of a Bristol Tommy, by Clive Burlton - local history is brought to life in this informative and well-illustrated book based on the memories of soldier George Pine.

  • UP THE LINE TO DEATH, The War Poets 1914-1918, selected by Brian Gardener - an anthology of haunting and memorable poems arranged in sections which follow the progress of the conflict.