Tuesday, 31 December 2013

'The French know how to raise good turkeys!'

Christmas celebrations on the Western Front
Source: Nationaal Archief, Netherlands
The traditions of Christmas were always appreciated by troops fighting at the Front, and New Year letters home were full of the celebrations they had enjoyed. Festive meals were often elaborate and well thought-out and lots of planning obviously went into this repast, described by a Canadian medical officer at the beginning of 1917:

8 January, France

'We had a much better Christmas this season than last. Fortunately we were out of the trenches in resreve and billeted in huts. The weather was fairly well behaved although we had some rain. All the men has a good Christmas dinner including turkey, plum pudding, beer, nuts, candy etc. We had previously ordred 500 kilos of turkey. We made a contract for them and the dealer shipped them in from Normandy. I must say the French know how to raise good turkeys.

'The tables were set in the YMCA hut and we hired dishes from the French civilians. We had to divide the dinner into four sections, one for each company. Two were held on Christmas day and two the day after. The band rendered musical programs during the dinners and each night put on a minstrel show which was really not at all bad. We had  good dinner in battalion HQ mess, but most of our pleas ure was derived from seeing the men have a good feed and enjoy themselves for once.'

But it wasn't long before Christmas was forgotten and the officer's next letter was more concerned with growling guns, frozen slush, and freezing 5.30am starts. Extracts will be published in the next post, so watch this space.

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