Sergeant Albert Edwin Rice of Guildford

Photograph of Albert Edwin Rice in later life, SHC ref QRWS/30/RICE/17

Photograph of Albert Edwin Rice in later life, SHC ref QRWS/30/RICE/17

In 1913 Albert Rice was in his third year of apprenticeship as a bookbinder at Billing and Son, the Guildford printers. ‘The father of the chapel had just returned from his annual fortnight’s camp with the Territorial Army.  He was bronzed, fit and well.  I envied him for there were no holidays with pay for the working classes.  Only the one day’s holiday in the printer’s life – the annual ‘Wayzgoose’, a day by the sea paid for by the firm, or at least the train fare was free and a day’s pay’.  He suggested Albert join up, but Albert pointed out he was not yet 18 years old.  ‘I was then about 5ft 10ins, and I suppose proportionally built’.  He said, ‘Lad, if you say you’re eighteen nobody will disbelieve you, and we shan’t ask for your birth certificate’. In fact in the summer of 1913 Albert was barely 16. He was born in the summer of 1897 and baptised at Christ Church, Guildford, on 19 September of that year, the son of Edwin and Martha Clara Rice of 52 Dapdune Road, Guildford. Edwin was a compositor, so his son was following him into the same printing trade. In the 1911 census the family, including Albert’s younger brothers Herbert and Eric, were still living at the same address.

Albert was sworn in as a Private in the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, to serve in the Territorial Army for 4 years and in the event of a war an extra year. He thought only of a holiday with pay in 1914 and not of the possibility of war.  Looking back over 50 years when Albert wrote his memoirs entitled ‘All for a shilling a day’ in 1970 (SHC ref QRWS/30/RICE) he recalled, ‘Life was good in 1913, food was good, wholesome and cheap. Life was easy and care free.  The only traffic hazard was the occasional run-away horse and cart.  Motoring was in its infancy, the air was clean, the summers long and sunny, the only music in our lives was the brass band in the park on Sundays, or the tinny gramophone with the large horn that we played in the parlour.  We could cheer or jeer the local football team Saturday afternoons, or in the summer go off in a horse brake to some adjoining village and play quoits or so-called cricket, and of course there was the local flea-pit which showed silent films.  But now I’d got something else – parades in the Drill Hall and occasional trips on Saturday afternoons to the rifle ranges at Ash’.

In 1914 the promised camp at Patcham near Brighton was called off, and instead he spent the time under canvas at Bordon military camp and training on Salisbury Plain. Then there was the rush of general mobilization and Albert gave the 5 gold sovereigns he received as his mobilization money to his mother, money which he didn’t see again until April 1919.

Albert’s memoirs capture vividly his experiences during the First World War.  He was sent with the 1/5th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment to India to take the place of regular troops who were returning to Europe.  From India the battalion was sent to Mesopotamia to try and break the siege by the Turks of Kut-al-Amara, where a British army was trapped.  His memoirs provide memorable descriptions of the food, heat and gruesome sanitary conditions, with much earthy humour about the variety of latrine provision, but also some lyrical accounts of the exotic clamour and colour of India, the beauty of the Taj Mahal and the astonishing sight of dawn colouring the Himalayas.

At Christmas 1916 he was still in Mesopotamia and a Christmas dinner and concert was organised.  When one of the officers played ‘Silent Night’ on a mandolin, Albert recalled that for the soldiers ‘that simple carol, the still quietness under the gently swaying palms, the brilliant starlit night, only broken by the light of the hurricane lamps made a deep and lasting impression on their minds, and I suspect that there was many a tear in their eyes, I know that there were in mine’.  Then the officer sang Leo Dryden’s song ‘The Miner’s Dream of Home’ with lines about England’s valleys and dells.

Albert continued ‘I lay down that night and tried to visualise the River Wey, placid, meandering through green meadows, lush grass, cows chewing the cud in the warmth of a sunny day in spring, buttercups and daisies, the song thrushes and blackbirds, the lark trilling in the sky, lost at times as the cumulus clouds drifted overhead, the gentle splash in the water as a paddle dipped into the stream and a punt drifted slowly by, with a tinny gramophone playing the latest song hit.  Or perhaps sitting beside the driver of a two horse brake taking some of my fellow apprentices out to a neighbouring village to play quoits on the village green.  The annual “Wayzgoose”, the printers’ day off, when for once our usual pallid complexions assumed the colour of a boiled lobster.  And to Christmas’s past, mother’s face, flushed from the heat of the range, roasting the goose, baking potatoes, mince pies, the pudding simmering on the highly polished range, father sitting placidly in his arm chair, wearing his best cutaway jacket and striped trousers, looking furtively at the old fashioned clock upon the mantelpiece to see if he could just about get down to the Drummond Arms by opening time.  Suddenly he’d rise, brush up his bowler hat – all journeymen wore bowlers then, “Dinner 1.30pm Mum”, then with his malacca cane he’d toddle off.  That was when England was a green and pleasant land, almost devoid of motor cars.  It was such a pleasant memory, I was almost asleep when some noise disturbed me, I opened my eyes, only to see vaguely through my mosquito nets a hurricane lamp swinging from the roof of the hut.  I was back to the reality of the dirt plain, the palms and “sod all” else, except perhaps that alleged “Garden of Eden” some two hundred miles downstream’.

After recovering from sand fly fever, Rice served in Kermanshah in north west Persia [Iran] as a member of Dunsterforce, an Allied military mission of under 1,000 Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian troops named after its commander General Lionel Dunsterville, and tasked with gathering information and training local forces against German infiltration.  While at Kermanshah Albert rode out on horseback to visit and photograph the inscriptions and carved rock reliefs on a cliff at Bisotun commemorating Darius the Great, the 6th century BC Persian king.  Albert was finally sent home after the Armistice on compassionate grounds as his mother was ill and reached England in the spring of 1919 and eventually found himself on Waterloo Station, penniless, where a kindly ticket inspector stood him a drink and gave the money for a train ticket to reach his aunt’s house in Battersea.

After the First World War Albert joined the Winchester City Police Force as a constable, rising to Detective Sergeant.  After 25 years he retired and worked as a freelance photographer and journalist.

Susan Lushington’s letters from soldiers

Susan Lushington (1870-1953) was the daughter of Vernon and Jane Lushington of Pyports, Cobham, and Kensington Square, London. Vernon was a County Court Judge in Surrey and was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, counting the designer and writer William Morris among his friends. After Vernon’s death in 1912, Susan Lushington went to live at Kingsley in Hampshire, a few miles south west of Farnham and near the army camp at Bordon. Susan’s passion was music and she threw open her home to any soldiers who wanted to come and enjoy music and refreshments. Many must have enjoyed this brief break from the routine of army life and once transferred to the Front wrote back to Susan often expressing their gratitude in surviving letters held in the Lushington archive at Surrey History Centre.

In December 1915 Trooper Robert Bamber of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry wrote to Susan as promised at their last meeting on Bordon Station, identifying himself as one who ‘used to ask you to play a melody on your violin’ and mentioning that ‘a lot of different chaps’ have pleasant memories of her, although ‘some will never return to that peaseful [sic] village’ of Bordon. Private Arthur Parfrey, in the 8th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment thanked Susan ‘for the opportunities you gave me for music when I was in camp at Bordon. Is it not wonderful, Mr Cawthorne, the violinist whom you introduced to me, is still here with me and in the same billet’.

Gunner Christopher Wendell, writing from Salonika, in the Royal Field Artillery in the summer of 1917 recalled ‘happy times’ which gave him ‘food for pleasant reflection’. At Christmas 1917 he organised a small choir to sing carols and ‘our colonel actually complimented us on our vocal efforts and our hopes and fears as successful wassailers were dispelled … the menu provided was all that could be desired. So that you see it is possible to enjoy Xmas on a huge hillside in the Balkans’. At the end of the war Wendell took part in 22nd Divisional Theatre Company performances of the operetta ‘The Chocolate Soldier’ in the Balkans.

There are also letters to Susan from soldiers who were to lose their lives in the conflict including Lieutenant Marmaduke Robert Hood Morley, of the 8th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, son of Noel and Jessie Morley, of Lychwood, Worplesdon Hill, Woking, who was killed on 1 July 1916 aged 22 and is commemorated on Woking Town Memorial. Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot (1891-1915), son of Edward Stuart Talbot, Bishop of Winchester, and Lavinia Talbot, served in the 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade. He wrote to Susan on 18 March 1915 from Farnham Castle, the home of the Bishop of Winchester, ‘I hope I shall see you before I go. We’re now in camp at Aldershot and expect to go very soon, though we know nothing definite’. He died on 30 July 1915.

Some letters highlight nostalgia for a past that has gone, never to return. Lieutenant Colonel Lord Alexander George Thynne (1873-1918), MP for Bath, 1910-1918, youngest son of John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, wrote to Susan on 20 July 1918, recalling days at Oxford in the 1890s ‘when a canoe on the Cher[well] seemed the acme of laziness and bliss. I can still see you playing in the orchestra of the Frogs [play by ancient Greek author Aristophanes] with Hubert Parry conducting. It is those sort of memories that make one hate the beastliness of these days of war. The most irritating thing is the waste of good years spent in this manner of life – years that can never be caught up again’. He was commanding officer of the 6th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, and was awarded the DSO and Croix de Guerre. He was killed in action on 14 September 1918.

The archive also includes letters from Franklin Lushington (1892-1964), who fought in World War I and World War II. He was the author of ‘The Gambardier: giving some account of the heavy and siege artillery in France, 1914-1918’ (written under the pen name Mark Severn, 1930) and ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ (1940), both of which include descriptions of his service in World War I. Franklin served in the Royal Artillery and wrote to Susan on 29 March 1917 (SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b), ‘I have got a very good battery with nice officers. My Captain (you know I’ve attained the lofty rank of Major ?!) is a topper and thoroughly efficient. He is a ranker and has the DCM. Of the others one is an author, writes things under such titles as a “Literary Pilgrim in England” and has a son of 18 in the Army! [This was the poet Edward Thomas, killed a few days later on 9 April at the Battle of Arras]. Another a Professor of Philosophy from Edinburgh University. A third an Australian boy of 19 and the fourth also a boy fresh from a public school. They are all gentlemen and good fellows, which is such a blessing’.

Letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington referring to the poet Edward Thomas, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

Letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington referring to the poet Edward Thomas, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

On 24 April Franklin wrote to Susan again ‘I have been having a very strenuous and rather a rotten time out here. Been right in the thick of things from the start. It was desperately cold and uncomfortable a week ago. We are living in the open or in disused trenches or in holes we’ve made for ourselves. I find the incessant noise very wearing, also I have buried two of my officers in the last fortnight which has upset me badly – two of the dearest and best chaps that ever stepped’.

Envelope of letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington, marked as passed by the censor, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

Envelope of letter from Franklin Lushington to Susan Lushington, marked as passed by the censor, 29 March 1917, SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/24a-b

On 29 November 1918 Franklin gave Susan a very downbeat account of the Armistice, ‘I’ve seldom spent a more depressing day than November 11th, and everybody I’ve met from other units says the same. I don’t know how to account for it but here are a few suggestions. 1) the reaction. For some weeks we had all been at the highest pitch of excitement, all working at top pressure day and night, chasing the Hun back and back. Then suddenly there was nothing to do and one realised one was filthy and unwashed, tired out, miserably uncomfortable, living probably in some dirty little battered village in which the Germans had left nothing but the manure heaps; 2) nothing but water to celebrate with!; 3) we all kept thinking of Piccadilly or Trafalgar Square and why weren’t we there this night of all nights? 4) We regretted, whilst quite recognising the sound sense in an Armistice at once if we could get our own terms, not having a whack at the Hun in his own country. I dearly wanted to shoot at a Hun town! Altogether it was a dismal affair!’ (SHC ref 7854/4/7/4/26a-b)

Browse Susan Lushington’s First World War correspondence further.

Search the Lushington Archive on the Exploring Surrey's Past website

George and Herbert Bunce of Caterham, photographers

Guards Depot, Coulsdon Road, Caterham. Men, mostly in civilian clothes, parading and having weapons training, with tents in the foreground. Photograph by Bunce Brothers. SHC ref 4209/3/156/3

Guards Depot, Coulsdon Road, Caterham. Men, mostly in civilian clothes, parading and having weapons training, with tents in the foreground. Photograph by Bunce Brothers. SHC ref 4209/3/156/3

In 1903 the brothers George and Herbert Bunce established themselves as professional photographers in a wooden hut to the rear of their father’s home in Asylum Road, Caterham. In 1906 they moved across the road to a new building at 26 Asylum Road (a road later renamed as Westway), Caterham. Photographing Guardsmen at the nearby Guards Depot was to become the core of their business but they also photographed many local families, buildings and activities.

Caterham Asylum Farm Staff, October 1917. Photograph by Bunce Brothers. SHC ref Z/516/52/1b

Caterham Asylum Farm Staff, October 1917. Photograph by Bunce Brothers.  SHC ref Z/516/52/1b

The surviving glass plates in the Bunce archive at Surrey History Centre illustrate the breadth of their business and contain some notable images. There are fine series of photographs of events and activities at Caterham School, Dene School and Eothen School, in Caterham. The Bunce brothers recorded carnivals and fetes organised by Caterham Hospital and Caterham Fire Brigade, the activities of Caterham Scouts, V E Day and Coronation street parties, and local football and cricket teams. Aspects of World War II were also recorded including photographs of ARP and Home Guard personnel and the results of bomb damage. There are also fascinating views of the RAF base at Kenley. The majority of the surviving images date from the 1920s to 1940s and there are very few from the World War I period.

However customer order books survive for the war years from April 1916 to December 1917 and from September 1918 onwards which show the types of photographs taken during this period. Customers ordered copies of photographs in a variety of formats including postcards, passport photographs, Victor Panels, Panelettes and Cabinets, some in sepia.

Some images were also hand coloured. In May 1916 W A Fox Pitt at the Guards Depot, Caterham, ordered 12 Imperial portraits and was described as ‘hair fair to medium, eyes blue, moustache lighter, buttons bronze, cap gold’. Captain Bremner of the Salvation Army, Caterham Valley, ordered photographs of a decorated tea table, songsters and soldiers. In 1916 photographs were also made at Bletchingley Isolation Hospital and Burntwood Red Cross Hospital, and Mr Wadeson of William Road, Caterham, ordered 6 pendant photos of Private Walter Wadeson. Miss Brown of Queen’s Park, Caterham, wanted a picture of a soldier for a heart shaped pendant.

Cricket on the sports field at Dene School, Church Road, Caterham, in July 1917. Photograph by Bunce Brothers. SHC ref 4209/3/30/2

Cricket on the sports field at Dene School, Church Road, Caterham, in July 1917. Photograph by Bunce Brothers. SHC ref 4209/3/30/2

In October 1918 Captain Menzies of the Army Gym Staff ordered ‘1 enlargement framed in oak with brass plate and inscription’ and images relating to Second Lieutenant J C Cavanagh, Royal Air Force, were poignantly inscribed ‘God called him to fly higher’. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website shows that John Charles Cavanagh of 218 Squadron was killed on 19 August 1918 aged just 18 and was the son of Mrs Elizabeth Cavanagh of Sunnydene Road, Purley. At the same time ordinary life also went on as people ordered photographs of weddings and babies.

 

 

 

The Royal Philanthropic Society, Redhill, in World War I

The Royal Philanthropic Society was founded in London in 1788 by a group of gentlemen, worried by the large number of homeless children in the city who could earn their living only through begging or crime. An institution was opened in St George’s Fields in Southwark to care for children. In 1849 the Society moved to Redhill. The Society’s school was classed as a reformatory, under the Reformatory Schools Act 1854, most of its boys being committed to the school by magistrates as a result of convictions for criminal offences, mainly theft. Farm work was the principal occupation for the children, although carpentry, tailoring and other trades were also taught. On leaving boys went to work in a variety of trades, some went into the armed services and some emigrated, mainly to Canada.

On the outbreak of war the school housed 250 boys, many from the London area. By the end of September 1914 30 boys had enlisted and 16 boys and school officers, under military direction, were guarding bridges on the Society’s property and the Redhill railway tunnels. Aspects of the life of the school continued as before. On 25 May 1915 the Warden reported that he had baptised 31 boys in the chapel on 9 May and presented 94 candidates for confirmation by the Bishop of Woolwich on 12 May. On 24 May Empire Day was celebrated in the usual way. There were special prayers and the National Anthem in the chapel service, Royal Salute of the flag by the staff and boys on the Farm Meadow, sports in the afternoon and a concert in the evening, in the interval of which the Warden gave an address on patriotism and the war. In July of the same year the school took part in the Home Office’s Reformatory Schools athletic sports, winning 9 first prizes, 12 seconds and the Spielman Challenge Cup. Christmas entertainment at the end of 1915 comprised the usual ‘programme of songs, recitations and farces’. However, the 1916 annual report, reviewing the previous year, did note the impact of the war on school life, recording ‘a certain amount of restlessness, attributable mostly to war fever, which led to some absconding to try to enlist whilst much under age’.

Royal Philanthropic Society boys in the carpenter's shop, early 20th century, SHC ref 2271/41/39

Royal Philanthropic Society boys in the carpenter’s shop, early 20th century, SHC ref 2271/41/39

During July 1915 the Home Office suggested that some of the school workshops in which the boys learnt trades could be turned over to munitions work. By the end of September a gas engine had been installed to provide additional power for lathe work and munitions work was underway. The workshops made brass fuse-bodies for shells, special control pins for aeroplane work, and 150,000 wooden thimbles for railway construction. In the tailor’s shop they carried out small sub-contracts for army tailors making parts of soldiers’ outfits. The blacksmith and some of the boys assisting him in the work were paid bonuses. On the other hand, the Society declined the Home Office’s suggestion that some of the boys be employed in munitions work at Woolwich Arsenal. In June 1918 the Society’s committee was asked for assistance in getting made certain metal parts of apparatus for wounded soldiers needed by the Kensington Central War Committee’s depot, and the committee sent a letter offering to help as far as possible.

Royal Philanthropic Society boys in the tailor's shop, early 20th century, SHC ref 2271/41/41

Royal Philanthropic Society boys in the tailor’s shop, early 20th century, SHC ref 2271/41/41

The war affected the staffing of the school. In 1915 the nurse at the school infirmary was accepted for war service, the band master and drill instructor called up, and Dr M W Baker, the medical officer, went for army service and arranged with Dr A B Timms to do his duties in his absence. Dr Timms was replaced by Dr L N Harding in January 1917. On 21 December 1915 Mr Birley, the drill master, resigned his post having been given a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in his old regiment (Gloucestershire). Throughout the war payments of bonus money were made to staff members. For example in May 1917 an application was received from members of the farm staff for a further increase of war bonus on the grounds of the greatly enhanced price of living, and a bonus of 2s 6d per week was granted to Messrs Luxford, Gray, Nicholls, Murray, Cooper and Drewitt.

As the war dragged on the importance of maximising food production increased, and the school’s farm played its part in this. On 28 June 1917 the farm bailiff was authorised to purchase 3 additional cows and the following month he was instructed to buy not more than 40 ewes and ‘a ram of a suitable character’. The best heifer calves were to be kept and reared. There were also suggestions that boys from the school should be employed on farms in the neighbourhood.

As food restrictions tightened feeding the boys was also a problem. On 25 October 1917 an allotment of sugar from the local Food Committee to the amount applied for, was reported, and in August 1918 50 cases of tinned meat were purchased.

In August 1917 some fields on the Society’s estate were occupied by a section of the RGA [Royal Garrison Artillery] operating an anti-aircraft battery. On 22 November 1917 the Society received a letter from the military authorities at the Horse Guards, notifying the taking over by them of land on the Society’s estate for a permanent gun position and searchlight. The military also occupied a further site near Allinghams on the Society’s estate as well as the gymnasium, but there was considerable complaint about the damage caused to roads and fences on the Society’s land by military activities and compensation was sought.

Royal Philanthropic Society boys in the music band, early 20th century, SHC ref 2271/41/44

Royal Philanthropic Society boys in the music band, early 20th century, SHC ref 2271/41/44

As soon as the war ended the Society sought some way to commemorate it and at the committee meeting of 28 November 1918 the Assistant Secretary was instructed to apply to the proper quarter for a war trophy in the shape of a gun or machine gun to be placed in a suitable spot to be determined. The annual report covering 1919 stated that: ‘Through the kind intervention of Lord Ashcombe, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, a War Trophy in the form of a German field gun has been presented to the school in recognition of the war services of the staff and a thousand of our boys who are known to have served. A Special Memorial Service was conducted in the School Chapel on January 5th, for the Old Boys who fell in the war’.

The 1919 annual report detailed the numbers of staff and former boys who had served during the war. Among the staff, 8 had served in the Army, 4 were awarded commissions, 1 was a prisoner of war, 2 were mentioned in dispatches and 1 killed.

For the boys the figures were:
Served in the Forces, 915
Awarded commissions, 12
Non-commissioned officers, 156
Enlisted from the school, 242
Enlisted from employment, 93
Killed in action or died of wounds or sickness, 71
Prisoners, 26
Missing, 27
Wounded or gassed, 279
Mentioned in dispatches, 7
Awarded decorations and medals, 34

Medals awarded included:
Military Cross, 2
Cross of St George, 3
Distinguished Conduct Medal, 10
Military Medal, 16
French Military Medal, 1
Belgian Military Medal, 1
Russian Medal, 1

No complete roll of honour exists among the school records to record the names of all those who served and died during the First World War, but details of the war service of many boys can be found in their entries in the surviving admission and discharge registers.

Sources

Minute books of the General Court and Committee of the Royal Philanthropic Society, 1901-1937 (SHC ref. 2271/2/26-27)
Annual reports for 1916 and 1919-1920 (SHC ref. 2271/1/37-39)

In the Bleak Midwinter: the Surrey Regiments and the 1914 Christmas Truce

The Christmas Truce enjoyed by the 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment was a far cry from the chocolate, football, booze and carols which some other units shared with the Germans elsewhere on the Western Front. The 2nd Battalion was in the line around La Boutillerie, just north of Fromelles and a few miles south of the Belgian border. On the 18th December two companies of the battalion had supported the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment in a disastrous attack on the German lines, the Queen’s losing 97 officers and men, either killed, wounded, missing or taken prisoner. The dead and wounded lay scattered in front of the enemy lines overnight.

A first truce occurred at daybreak on 19th December 1914, when the Germans opposite beckoned the 2nd Battalion out to collect its wounded and bury its dead. Several officers, the Medical Officer and around 30 men went out to meet 60 Germans in No Man’s Land. The rival officers talked as the burial parties got to work, the Germans assisting in burying many of the British dead, many of whom lay close to their front line. They did not, however, play entirely fair: two British officers and seven stretcher bearers were enticed into the German trenches and taken prisoner. This truce was captured in photographs by 2nd Lieutenant J B Coates, who, though only aged 17, found himself commanding a company.

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen's Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/1/16/11 p2 1of2)

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen’s Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/1/16/11 p2 1of2)

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen's Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/3/11/3 p17)

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen’s Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/3/11/3 p17)

Despite this somewhat inauspicious armistice, as many dead still lay unburied, a further truce was agreed on Christmas day at 11am negotiated by the Wiltshire Regiment on the Queen’s right. The 2nd Battalion’s war diary reported that ‘many German officers and men came out of their trenches to midway between the two lines’ and more graves were excavated. However the frozen earth meant progress was very slow and a third armistice was agreed for Boxing Day to begin at 9am. A number of immaculate German Staff officers appeared in fur lined coats ‘of quite a different class to the infantry officers who were of a very low class’. While the men hacked at the hard as iron ground, they chatted with their counterparts, sharing with the British their sanguine views on the war’s progress: ‘All professed themselves as confident as to their being able to end the war in their favour. They had no opinion of the Russians who they considered already beaten. All gave the appearance however of being fed up with the war’. Finally, at 1pm, with the graves all now completed, the British chaplain read the burial service, in the presence of the digging party, some officers of the Queen’s and 8 or 10 German officers. The proprieties observed, both sides returned to their trenches.

By contrast, the 1st Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment was ordered into the line at Christmas by GHQ to take over from a battalion which had been fraternising with the enemy far too eagerly. The offending unit had actually issued an invitation to the Saxons opposite to come into their trench, the Germans being particularly keen to obtain British newspapers to find out what was happening in the world. The East Surreys had regretfully to tell the Germans when they approached that this arrangement had been cancelled, but even so exchanged a few words and a copy of the ‘Times’.

As the experience of the 1st Battalion of the East Surreys testifies, the spontaneous coming together of the two sides during December 1914 was frowned upon by the high commands. In 1915, the British top brass was determined that there should be no reoccurrence of 1914’s fraternisation because of its supposed effect on morale and fighting spirit. The 7th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment rejected an initiative by the Germans opposite on Christmas Day: ‘No fraternising this year, although the Germans tried to make peaceful advances by showing the white flag. Our Artillery consistently pounded their trenches all day and night. A certain amount of retaliation took place but not nearly as much as we put over’. The 8th Battalion were swiftly disabused of any notion that the enemy might again seek a convivial truce: ‘All thoughts of fraternising on Christmas Eve was put an end to by Trench Mortars, Sausages, Rifle grenades and whiz-bangs on the part of the Germans’.

The fragile flowering of peace and goodwill during the first Christmas of the war was never to be repeated.