Christmas parcels

Sent from loved ones at home to the frontline troops, food packages at Christmas were packed with something extra for the festive period. Christmas boxes were saturated with treats so that Christmas dinner could be an occasion when the disappointments of military rations were forgotten.

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While the remembrance of earlier Christmases celebrated in a civilian past, surrounded by loved ones, was particularly poignant, the army did what it could to make the day festive.

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A Christmas feast

In addition to official supplies, officers were expected to enhance the meal from their own resources: beer was best, but Private FE Noakes was appreciative of the homemade mince pies that his captain provided. Private WM Floyd’s diary records a “spanking Xmas” in great detail: from the turkey, sprouts and potatoes, to the dates, nuts and muscatels. A keen smoker, he was delighted to receive the ‘Princess Mary Christmas Box’, with its extra tobacco and cigarettes.

Many organisations sent gifts to the troops, although not all were gratefully received; Private AP Burke wrote home on 28 December 1915 complaining about one from The Manchester Guardian, which contained “only a few biscuits”.

From Britain with love

Parcels from home, always a great source of support to the men, flooded across the channel at this time of year, over 50,000 a day in the period before Christmas, 1917. One ranker spoke for his fellow soldiers when he wrote home of the comfort he derived from the lovingly chosen and wrapped packages: “I think my idea of hell would be the front without parcels”. Sadly, families and friends might send parcels to men no longer there to receive them. Pragmatism prevailed and they were usually consumed by the survivors, confident that it was what both senders and casualties would have desired.

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On occasion, the contents could be overwhelming, as when Private PH Jones and his pals found an unclaimed box and “unpacked a magnificent plum cake, with a little note ‘To dear Reggie with best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a safe return home, from Mother’… not one of us would touch the parcel after that.”