Christmas comforts for the troops

By Judith Philips & Julie Marmont

As you may tell from the book group report, we have found several books relating to different aspects of Christmas during the first World War, ranging from the early optimism –‘it’ll be over by Christmas’ to the relief of Christmas 1918 when the armistice the previous month held out hope that men and women in the armed forces and support services would be safe to get home for Christmas.  For many it wouldn’t be until 1919 or even later that they were home for Christmas.

Thinking about spending Christmas in the trenches, we decided to see what we could find out about Christmas for Teesdale men on active service.  Starting with the Teesdale Mercury we found several references.  In January 1916 the newspaper reported a letter from Private W. Harris written from Egypt on Christmas Day and one from Private Robert Gregory on the western Front addressed to his aunt Mrs F Chatt, living in Bridgegate.  There are several entries for the name Chatt on the Roll of Honour – I wonder whether she was related to some of them.

We also found a fascinating article in January 1916 about sending Christmas parcels to men from Laithkirk parish reported on 5th January.  A collection had been taken in Mickleton, Lunedale and Holwick to send gifts to soldiers and sailors from the Laithkirk parish.  Mickleton collected £4 16s 6 1/2d, Lunedale £2 0s 5 1/2d and Holwick £1 10s 2d, making a total of £8 7s 2d.  That might not seem much today but it represents about £600 worth of buying power today.

The article gives the names of the men presents were sent to: Kenneth Beadle, Robert Cooper, Ralph Foster, Thomas Forster, Ernest Hallport, George Hunt, Harry Hunt, William Horne, Bertie Lee, Lance Lowes, Charles Minikin, Philip Posslethwaite, Wilfred Raine, Oswald Raine, George Raine, Richard Raine, John James Shields, William Sutherland, Moss Ward and James Watson, plus Isaac Allinson, Isaac Lee, Charles Towenson, Ralph Towenson, William Dean and Will Ward, described as ‘training at home’.

A quick check of the Absent Voters list for 1918 revealed some of the same names: Isaac Lee, Thomas Bertram Lee, William Sutherland and James Watson in Holwick, and Isaac Allinson, William Dean, Kenneth Beadle, William Horn, Wilfred Raine and Charles Towenson in Mickleton.  Sadly the memorial plaque in Laithkirk  Chapel shows that one of recipients of the Christmas gift did not survive the war – that is , if the Ralph W Forster on the plaque is the Ralph Foster named in the newspaper.

Clearly there is a lot of work still to be done in tracing these men using Ancestry and other online sources, and they will all eventually be added to the Roll of Honour.  But we’d love to hear from anyone who can tell us more about any of these people, or about anyone else from the Teesdale area who was involved in the First World War.  You can email librariesandarchives@thebowesmuseum.org.uk or submit information here on the website.