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White Christmas on the Western Front

December 19, 2010

This is the latest in a series of extracts from the World War I diaries of my grandfather, Harry Hickson. Harry was an artillery officer who spent the last two years of the war on the Western front. The fraternization between British and German troops that took place at Christmas 1914 was never repeated. By 1917, when he wrote these entries, hundreds of thousands of soldiers had died on both sides, and the weary stalemate continued.

Shortly before these entries begin, Harry was selected to be the Gas Officer for his regiment – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. He then learned that he had been granted two weeks leave – his first since he had arrived at the front. But first he had to make it through to his departure date…..

December 19 1917: A lovely day, sharp frost and then sun shining.  The Corps chemical adviser (Capt Pheasey) came to see me to arrange about my job.  Wrote letters later.  A Bosche came over in a plane today and made three attempts to bring down a balloon near us, in spite of everyone firing at him, he must have been a brave fellow and full of pluck.  He was brought down himself near Polecapelle on his return journey, he deserved to get away for being so plucky.  Major Brook and Newman came to dinner and we had a very nice meal, played bridge afterwards.  Comfy night.

December 20th: Very sharp frost and bitterly cold.  Went up to see them at 185 (Harry’s old battery), and Mawby returned with me for lunch.  Slack day.  Wrote letters.  Played bridge later.  Comfortable night but very cold.

December 21st: Very sharp frost, but a nice day.  Went to Pop. and had lunch at the Club and did some shopping.  Jumped lorries each way as no car was available.  Wrote lots of letters for Xmas.  Played bridge.

December 22nd: Lovely day, slight thaw.  Searched for a dentist as my teeth really need attending to, but could not find one.  The Huns were firing at our balloons all the morning, but could not hit them.  Lots of the pieces fell too near us to be pleasant!  Slack afternoon.  I hear that my old 401 section has been transferred to 264 Siege Battery.  A comfortable night, but the Bosche were bombing heavily.

December 23rd: Lovely day with sharp frost.  The Chemical Adviser came to see me this morning and told me my leave was granted.  Joyful news!  I feel so frightfully excited about it.  Went to 185 for lunch, and afterwards went up to St Julien to look for souvenirs.   Got some Bosche 77 mm. cases.  The Bosche were bombing a lot at tea time, one Gotha was brought down this afternoon.  Comfy night.

December 24th: It was frost this morning, but thawed very quickly this afternoon and then rained.  I went to Headquarters and lunched with Colonel Haig, a relation of Sir Douglas I believe.  Up to 185 this afternoon, then wrote letters.  Played bridge after dinner.  Comfy night.

December 25th: Xmas Day, rather incongruous to think of peace and goodwill when we are at war.  I got up at 9am., it was snowing heavily and did so again this afternoon.  The Huns were very active with high explosive shells and shrapnel.  Went up to Foch Farm for tea and back to the mess  at Canal Bank for dinner.  We had a very nice cheery dinner indeed, it was well cooked and all were in good spirits.  I played one rubber at bridge and then went up to see my old friends of 185 as I had promised.  I found them having a very rowdy and merry time, celebrating Xmas Day in real earnest!  So escaped after staying about half an hour and got to bed about midnight.  A very enjoyable day and no bombing for a change.

Harry’s reference in the Diary to “Pop” relates to the Belgian town of Poperinghe, which was the location of TOC H, a famous soldiers’ rest place set up by the Rev. Tubby Clayton.

As the people of Britain in 2010 battle with the coldest winter for years, and grumble about travel chaos and rising fuel prices, a reminder that the occupants of the Western Front would have swapped their lives for ours at any time of year.

You can find other excepts from the diary here:

From → History, UK

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