New Year’s Eve, 1914 (Thursday)



Western Front: An anonymous British nursing sister makes the best of new year in a war zone:

Thursday, December 31st, New Year’s Eve. – Still at Sotteville, and clemmed with cold. There was no paraffin on the train this morning, so we couldn’t even have the passage lamps lit.

This afternoon I went with Major – and the French Major and the little fat French Caporal (who is the same class as the French major – or better) into Rouen, and they trotted us round sight-seeing. The little Caporal showed us all the points of the cathedrals, and the twelfth century stone pictures on the north porch and on the towers, and also the church of St Maclou with the wonderful “Ossuare” cloisters, now a college for Jeunes Filles. We had tea in town and trammed back. This evening, New Year’s Eve, the French Staff had decorated the restaurant with Chinese lanterns, and we had a festive New Year’s Eve dinner, with chicken, and Xmas pudding on fire, and Sauterne and Champagne and crackers. The putting-on of caps amused everyone infinement, and we had more speeches and toasts. I forgot to tell that the French Major’s home is broken by the Germans, and he doesn’t know where his wife and three children are. On Xmas night, during toasts, he suddenly got up and said in a broken voice, “A mes petits enfants et ma femme”.

[from the (anonymous) “Diary of a nursing sister on the Western Front, 1914-1915“]

and so begins 1915…

30th December 1914 (Wednesday)

BORN TODAY: George Feversham Arnold, Nova Scotian bishop.


The Dardanelles: in a conversation with the Russian Chief of Staff, who is concerned that the Turks are pressing Russian forces hard in the Caucasus region, Major General Sir John Hanbury-Williams, GCVO (Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order), KCB (Knight Commander of Britain), CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) enquires: “in the event of its being possible, whether he thought a naval demonstration (sic) would be of any use. He jumped at it gladly”. 

Later, referring to the disastrous Gallipoli operations of 1915, Sir John notes in his memoirs: “It is of historical interest that this conversation was really the origin of what eventually developed into the Dardanelles operations, though I naturally, at the time, had no idea of the great development in that line which was to take place later on. These were, so far as I know, undertaken originally with a view to helping our Russian Allies out of a “tight place.” It was thus the first chapter of what turned out to be an unfortunate undertaking, but it did anyhow render a considerable service to Russia”

29th December 1914 (Tuesday)

BORN TODAY: in Kishoreganj, East Bengal, British india (now Bangladesh) – Zainul Abedin, Bengali painter.


In the Caucasus: Russians are fighting Turks at the Battle of Sarikamish.

28th December 1914 (Monday)

BORN TODAY: Stan Ogden.


How the other half lives: Major General Sir John Hanbury-Williams, GCVO (Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order), KCB (Knight Commander of Britain), CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) lunches with His Imperial Highness Tsar Nicholas II, (last) Emperor of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and (titular) King of Poland, officially known as “Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias”. These august gentlemen exchange anecdotes about Sir John’s ancestor, Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, who was Ambassador to Russia in the time of the Empress Catherine (in the 18th century).


On a stormy night in rural Essex in England, the Reverend Jospeh Thomas, who is also a “special corporal” (part-time volunteer policeman) disappears while on patrol. The next day he is found, drowned, presumed to have slipped and been carried away by floodwater during his patrol.

27th December 1914 (Sunday)


War in the trenches…

The history books fall silent this week, as though nothing of significance could happen between the “Christmas Truce” and “1915”. But the diaries tell a different story. An anonymous British nursing sister documents the risk of drowning in “deep-water trenches”, as conveyed by one of her patients:

“Of three officers in a deep water trench for two days, one was drowned, the other had to have his clothes cut off him (stuck in the mud) and be pulled out naked, and the other is invalided with rheumatism”

[Diary of nursing sister on the Western Front, 1914-1915: entry for 27th December 1914]

26th December 1914 (Saturday)

BORN TODAY: in Sunrise, Minnesota – Richard Widmark, actor.


Traditionally a day for sport, Boxing Day in Britain sees a feast of football (soccer) and goals, with Bolton Wanderers beating Aston Villa 7-1; Bristol City beating Grimsby Town 7-0; Oldham Athletic beating Bradford Park Avenue 6-2; Spurs beating Sheffield Wednesday 6-1; Arsenal beating Leicester City 6-0; and Huddersfield Town beating Blackpool 5-0.

25th December 1914 (Friday)

War continues, unabated…

At sea:

Two cargo ships in different parts of the North Sea strike mines and sink. Some are rescued, and some are not so lucky…

in the air:

At Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the river Elbe in Germany, the British make a ship based air raid on German naval forces (“the Cuxhaven raid”).

“Fog, low cloud and anti-aircraft fire prevented the raid from being a complete success, although several sites were attacked. Nevertheless, the raid demonstrated the feasibility of attack by ship-borne aircraft and showed the strategic importance of this new weapon”. [Wikpedia].

And on the land:

On the Western Front, in the district of La Boiselle, there is “sporadic french machine gun fire and two french artillery rounds fired… from Bouillon Wood…[in the evening the 12/180 brigade] fired at a French patrol and a severely wounded prisoner was brought in. Before he died he told his captors that his mission was to determine if the Germans were celebrating and were drunk”

[Ralph Whitehead: “The Other side of the Wire: With the German XIV Reserve Corps on the Somme, September 1914 to June 1916”]. 

24th December 1914 (Thursday)

BORN TODAY: in Quilmes, Buenos Aires – Lieutenant Noel Wilson Cooper, missing, presumed dead, in 1943 during a Royal Marine commando reconnaisance operation for the invasion of Sicily. Aged 28.


In England’s west country, the Western Times publishes a letter from a sailor:

Sailor Indignant at Slow Recruiting of Exeter.

Quote: An Exeter sailor on duty in the North Sea, writing to his parents, says: “I felt a bit sick when I read your letter dealing with the slow recruiting for ‘Exeter’s Own.’ To think that we are at sea doing our best to ensure food supply for these ‘ k’nuts ‘ and give them a place where they can lay their heads in safety! It not very encouraging to know that there are hundreds at Exeter watching football matches and walking out with girls. Those at Exeter ought to follow the example of the young ladies in Newcastle. They ‘ Cut’ every young fellow who will not join up.” []


In London’s eastern docklands, two police constables – PCs John Severn and William Ware – both drown while on patrol, when they fall into a dock in dense fog.

23rd December 1914 (Wednesday)


~ Alfred Dompert, German steeple-chaser.

~ Dr. Hildegard Bartels, economist, and the first woman to be head of a federal authority in the Federal Republic of Germany.

~ Begum Qudsia Zaidi, “a writer, social worker, and theatre practitioner… best remembered for her pioneering role in establishing the Hindustani Theatre in Delhi in the 1950s”


War at Sea: The British trawler “Ocana” strikes a mine in the North Sea and sinks with the loss of nine of her crew.

The Western Front:  “A German soldier, Karl Aldag, reports that both sides had been heard singing hymns in the trenches. German troops coming into the lines bring Christmas trees. Some men begin to place them on the parapets of the fire trenches. Local truce on the front of 23rd Brigade” [The Christmas Truce/ ].

Your Country Needs You! In England’s west country, the Exeter and Plymough Gazette is offering advice to those who delaying signing-up until after Christmas:

Recruits are being obtained from Devon at the rate of about 25 to 30 a day, but evidently there are still young men who are , hanging back. In all probability, they are waiting until after Christmas, but it cannot be too insistently pointed out to them that the call is urgent. Those who desire to enlist, but want to spend Christmas with their friends, can, by a special arrangement, already recorded in the “Gazette,” meet, their personal wishes socially and, at the same time, prove their patriotism. The arrangement is those who sign on now can have leave over Christmas and draw Army pay. The fact that they are serving their country will, doubtless, enable recruiting agents among other young men of their acquaintance, who may be still hesitating whether to take their place in the ranks, or remain at home with their friends.”