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“]
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”
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.
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]
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.
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].
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”].