Sunday, 6 December 2015

Joyful station scenes as soldiers return home for Christmas

Plenty has been written about Christmas in the trenches, about the famous truce of 1914, and the misery of soldiers who had to endure Christmas away from their loved ones. However, some troops were lucky enough to make it home on leave during the festive season and on 23 December 1916 a heartwarming report appeared in the Bristol Times and Mirror describing scenes of homecoming at Bristol Temple Meads Station. Today, nearly 100 years later, they are still wonderful to read about...
'All day the station was crowded with soldiers, coming, going and changing trains. The Christmas spirit was noisily evident, and the singing of snatches of songs, continuous. Never, surely, were trains more crowded, never were travellers more good humoured and content with their accommodation. The men got into the trains anyhow - some through the windows. They did not ask guards of porters to find them seats, but jumped into any compartment not caring a toss whether they could sit or not. They did not mind so long as they got aboard and knew that they were going home. Many of the soldiers wore sprigs of holly and ivy, and their genial humour and goodwill led them to hobnob with any of their fellows wearing the King's uniform and to share refreshment with them. There was no intemperance in imbibing, in language, or in acts. Chaff and banter went on all the time in the best of temper.'
Temple Meads Station, scene of joyful homecomings

Wounded at Temple Meads Station
During the rest of the year Temple Meads Station was rather more subdued as it received casualties from the battlefields. Wounded men began arriving from the Western Front from the very start of the war and it was reported that one soldier's wife could hardly believe that her husband had been to France, got wounded and returned to Bristol (as a patient at the Infirmary) in so short a space of time.
Initially, the so-called ambulance trains ran according to the rail system's timetables. But as the war progressed, so their arrival began to be scheduled later and later, sometimes not until the early hours, in order that the sight of wounded and sometimes terribly maimed men did not have a detrimental effect on public morale.
Whatever time of day or night the trains rolled in, the wounded were always assured of a warm welcome from Bristol's volunteers, as this report from 1919 shows:
'At no other centre were the wounded better cared for than at Bristol and the reception they met with at Temple Meads Station must have given them an encouraging first impression of the city. The admirably trained Red Cross and St John Ambulance men showed unremitting diligence in their efforts, and the convoys of wounded men were always got away from the station with commendable despatch. The Women's Voluntary Aid Detachment, who were always on duty at the station when the trains came in, served refreshments, which were immensely appreciated by the soldiers.'
You can read more in my book Bristol in the Great War - not just at Christmas but other times of year too!

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