The 18th Battalion experienced Christmas as a unit from 1914 to 1918. Each Christmas was a different experience for each year. The first Christmas was a gala event in London, Ontario and hosted by The Women’s Canadian Club replete with boiled ham, mashed potatoes, and green peas. The following Christmases would not be the same and the soldiers celebrating the season comprised of different cadres of men as the toil and spoil of war took its toll.
The most descriptive Christmas in the War Diary was that of the Christmas celebrated by the 18th Battalion in Germany during its occupation duty there after the Armistice was signed. Stationed in the Allner Region, each Company had its own celebration.
Battalions would send out Christmas Cards and, up until now, the only record of such an artifact was the picturesque card from 1914. Designed by Private E. Pullen, reg. no. 53273, it is a wonderful encapsulation of the tone of the soldiers who enlisted with the Battalion and wanted to get “over there” to fight the Hun.
A sample for 1918 shows a different face…
The card is more formal than the 1914 version. It appears to be printed on one piece of paper and folded to create a card. The cover is a simple image of the Battalion crest with B.E.F. France printed on the front. Clearly, when the card was designed the Battalion felt that it would be in France during this Christmas which gives wonder to how much lead time was required to get enough cards printed for the Battalion. The print run would be at least one card for every soldier and possibly more as the men may have wanted to send several cards to family and friends.
The 1918 card is more sombre. The war was in its fourth year and the poem in the card clearly indicates that, at the time of printing, there was no end in sight:
The days have passed until another year18th Battalion Christmas Card
Has closed; but freedom’s cause still holds us here.
Reliant, confident, our wills are set
To reach the glorious goal ungained yet.
Heroic deeds of comrades true who fell
To equal deeds our emulous hearts impel.
Much we’ve achieved; much still waits to be done.
We “carry on” till Victory is won.
The tone of this poem adroitly expresses the feelings of the soldiers at that time of the war. As they need “To reach the glorious goal ungained yet.” They know the score but still express a combative spirit as they “carry on” to victory and wars end.
It must have been ironic to have had all those cards printed out to only have the war end before Christmas 1918. All these cards now express a sentiment that, gratefully, no longer existed at that time. The German Army is defeated in the field and elements of the Canadian Corp march into Germany to begin their occupation duties – not to die by gas, bullet, and shell in open warfare. Now, Christmas will be at a time of peace and becomes wholly more significant as it is the first Christmas after the war, and the soldiers will be going home soon.
The 18th Battalion War Diary says it best:
“At the close of the dinner the faces of the men showed, very glowingly, their entire satisfaction. Altogether the occasion was carried off in an excellent manner and it will be one that will never be forgotten by any of the members of this battalion.”18th Battalion War Diary Transcription. December 1918.
Such was the spirit of Christmas 1918. So very different of that in 1914. Only about 25 men were at the dinner that would have seen the 1914 card.
With thanks for the Christmas cards from those who contributed.