David Childs

The most memorable incident in December 1914 occurred on Christmas Day when troops, including those from the Wiltshire Regiment, left their opposing trenches on the Western Front and gathered in a spirit of friendship to shake hands, exchange gifts and even play a game of football (which the Germans won 3 - 2, sounds familiar!). Yet all was not peace on that day: 81 British soldiers died as a result of sniper fire while naval seaplanes carried out a raid on Cuxhaven.

The Navy had a reasonably good month for on 8 December Admiral Sturdee's squadron sailed out of the Falkland Islands and destroyed Graf Von Spee's force, sinking six ships with only one escaping. Thus was the defeat of Admiral Craddock at Coronel six weeks earlier avenged. However, in the North Sea, the German fleet bombarded Hartlepool and Scarborough killing 137 civilians and calling into question the Royal Navy's control of those home waters.

On 24 December Britain experienced her first air-raid when bombs were dropped on Dover by a single aeroplane, badly bruising one gardener.

Earlier in the month the British suffered heavily in a series of attacks in Flanders while the French took 90,000 casualties in the Battle of Champagne which was launched on 10 December and lasted until 17 March 1915.

At the start of December Pope Benedict XV had called for a "cease of the clash of arms" over Christmas to which the Germans agreed, provided everyone else did so as well. They didn't; that too sounds familiar.

Finally 2,166,088 small oblong boxes were sent as Christmas presents from Princess Mary (King George V's daughter) to all those serving. They contained mostly cigarettes and tobacco, with the simple message "May God protect you and bring you home safe".


Rupert Brooke joined the Royal Naval Division early on in the war in sufficient time to be sent to serve in the defence of Antwerp. During leave between then and his despatch to Gallipoli he wrote five poems of which this, written in December 1914, is the most famous and a startling contrast to Wilfred Owen's poem of disillusionment that follows.

The Soldier
by Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust who England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


by Wilfred Owen

War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred on Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art's ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love's wine's thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.
For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
As Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.

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