Christmas in the Great War

Being away from home always seems worse at Christmas, so when families were separated during the First World War they did their best to keep in touch, sending letters and gifts to loved ones. Nationally funds were set up to send gifts to soldiers like the Princess Mary Fund in 1914.

From 1915, here in Newhaven, the town council organised a collection for soldiers and sailors serving abroad. Money was collected throughout the town. People with friends and relatives from the town, who were serving their country, sent their names and units to the council in order for a gift to be sent out to them. A total of £51. 9s 6d was collected and for those 153 men serving afloat or abroad, parcels were sent containing ½ lb of tobacco, 60 cigarettes and a briar pipe.  To those 93 men serving in this country, each received ¼ lb of tobacco and 50 cigarettes.  The Council received a large number of letters from soldiers and sailors thanking the town for their gifts “one man in the London Brigade RE said there were men from many towns in his Company, but he was the only one to receive a gift from the town with which he had been associated”.

The people of Newhaven also made sure that the soldiers from the Garrison were catered for with special concerts and entertainments.  At the Missions to Seamen’s Institute, on Christmas Day 1914, 75 men, mainly sailors and some soldiers not in billets, were entertained to tea and games including ‘Musical Chairs’, ‘General Post’ and ‘Stirring the Plum Pudding’.  In the evening 130 men enjoyed carols, hymns and lantern slides.

The Military Hospital (now the Hillcrest Centre) was at full capacity Christmas Day 1914 with 50 soldiers receiving treatment. The East Sussex News reported that  “there was a profuse display of flags and holly to gladden the eye; luscious turkey, plum pudding and dessert to satisfy the inner man; sweet music afterwards to delight the ear; and tobacco to calm the nerves”.

In December 1915, a cargo of around 700 tons of Christmas puddings left Newhaven en-route to the troops at the Front, a gift from the readers of the Daily News.  The ship carrying the gifts left the harbour with Christmas trees and holly attached to the top of her masts. On arrival in France (after a rough crossing) the puddings were loaded onto 65 trucks for their onward journey.

By Jenny Flood.

Details of how Christmas was spent, in Newhaven, during 1914 and 1915 were reported in the East Sussex News, copies of which can be found at The Keep. All pictures are reproduced by kind permission of Newhaven Museum.