Christmas Truce (Armistice) 1914 | Joshua Kellsall's Christmas
A Thought on Christmas Day, 1914


 
In the autumn of 1914 concerns were voiced about the number of recruits that Blackburn had provided. It was felt that more could be done to stimulate recruitment. In November the Corporation intervened and set up a Committee to mount a recruiting campaign. Bi-weekly meetings were held outside the Town Hall with speakers such as Sir Edwin Hamer, JP, appealing for recruits.
 
In October 1914 Blackburn had received its first batch of Belgian refugees. Appeals for funds and for hospitality were made. Cotton magnate Joseph Dugdale offered his country residence 'Oxendale Hall' at Osbaldeston to house 16 refugees. By Christmas 82 had arrived in the town. At the same time hospital accommodation was being prepared for the wounded. The Blackburn and East Lancashire Royal Infirmary received many sick and wounded soldiers. Lack of space soon became a major problem and alternative accommodation needed to be found. One example of this was 'Ellerslie' on East Park Road, formerly a private house, was fitted out as a hospital. It was run jointly by the Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance. It was generously supported with gifts of money, clothing, food, bedding, personal items and reading material. During the latter part of the War, the newly built Public Halls were brought into service as a military hospital.
 
In December, householders were sent papers which asked them to give details of male residents of military service age. This was not compulsory, but it gave the Government a rough idea of how many potential soldiers there were.
 
 Over the years stories and recollections have been recalled regarding the “cease fire”, December 25, 1914.
The website “Long Long Trail” notes: “Many men record the strange and wonderful event; many men exchange tokens or addresses with German soldiers, many of whom speak English.  81 British soldiers die on this day; a few die in areas that are otherwise peaceful and with fraternisation going on, victims to alert snipers.  In other areas, there is considerable activity: 2nd Grenadier Guards suffer losses in a day of heavy fighting.  As night fell, things grew quiet as men fell back to their trenches to take whatever Christmas meal that had been provided for them”,
 
 

Private Edmund Griffiths,
4902, East Lancashire Regiment, 2nd Batallion (Died 25 December, 1914)

 
Private E Griffiths_NEW.jpg Private Edmund “Darkie” Griffiths (4902), East Lancashire 2nd Battalion, from Blackburn was, sadly, one of the 81.  His story has come to light after his granddaughter contacted Blackburn Library in order to obtain a newspaper report from the daily paper, “The Northern Daily Telegraph” (NDT), 1956. The “NDT” ran an “Our Information Bureau Knows All the Answers” column every Saturday in which readers responded to items or features previously published.  In January 1956, some correspondents to the paper recollected their experiences regarding Christmas in the trenches some forty years earlier.  The correspondence relating to Edmund is as follows:
 Northern Daily Telegraph, Saturday January 14, 1956, page 5.
…“10630” (Brierfield) writes: “All you mentioned about the unofficial armistice was quite correct. I would like to add a few more details, some of which may be of interest to a certain family in Blackburn though I don’t know which part.
“The affair – you could hardly call it an armistice – started at dusk when we stood to in the normal routine.  The 2nd East Lancashire Regiment was occupying trenches at a place known as Port Arthur in front of Neuve Chapelle, a place we took on March 10, 1915.  The Germans opposite sang carols all through the night.  On Christmas Day, at stand to, when just coming light, we saw about half a dozen Germans stood on the parapet and shouting across to us”.
“One of them left the remainder and came half way and shouted in a broad Lancashire dialect, “Are you coming out Lancs? “It’s OK”.  When we got to mixing with them he told us he was a collier in Wigan for years before the war broke out.  He certainly knew as much about Lancashire as we did.  He had known for a month before that our Brigade was working that sector and which days our battalion went in and when we were relieved.  It was a God send for him that we happened to be there at Christmas.  He told us that he had been crazy for weeks, wondering if he would get the chance to talk to us before they or us were moved to some other part of the line.
 We mixed with them for roughly four to five hours.  Then, about mid-day, a shot was fired from the German lines.  My pal was stood on our own parapet with two or three of our company and the bullet got him dead centre between the eyes.  It must have been a first-class sniper further up the line.  Two of the party we were talking to rushed back to their lines to try and find who had fired the shot.  We never got to know if they were successful or not as things were on their usual old footing at stand-to, though the Huns continued singing throughout the night. “The troops opposite us then were the Brandenburg Regiment and a battalion of the Saxon Regiment.  My pal’s name was Darkie Griffiths.  He lived in some street called Back Mary Ann-street.  If he didn’t, his girl certainly did though I have forgotten the number.  I used to read his letters and answer most of them.  I don’t know anything about Blackburn but that address has always been in my mind during the last forty years.“Perhaps there are a few of the old Lilywhites, the 59th still alive in Blackburn, who would remember me, 10630 “A” Company, later Sergeant of No. 4 Platoon”.
 Two weeks later in The Northern Daily Telegraph, Saturday January 28, 1956, page 5 there was a poignant response:
Mrs Griffiths, 16, Back Mary Ann-street, Blackburn, writes: “In Saturday night’s issue of your paper “10630” (Brierfield) says “Darkie Griffiths was killed by a German sniper during armistice, or truce, 1914, Christmas Day.  That statement is correct but “Darkie” only a nickname.  His name was Edmund.  Your correspondent doesn’t seem to know that Edmund Griffiths was married and left a wife and two children.  Well, one was 13 months old, the other born on 8th February, 1915.  Both are married now, one aged 42, the other 40.
The last letter my husband wrote to me he told me the Germans or Gerries were not many yards away, and they could hear them singing carols and shouting.  He said he didn’t think there would be any fighting on Christmas Day.  It was a surprise to me to see my husband’s name in your paper and nice of your correspondent to remember a pal after 40 years.  But it certainly brought back sad memories of a Christmas I could never forget.  P.S. My eldest son lives in Parkstone, Dorset.  The son he never saw lives in Birmingham.
 

 
Back Mary Ann Street.jpg
(​c)  Blackburn with Darwen Terms and Conditions
Back Mary Ann Street, Blackburn circa 1958 (Victoria Brewery tower in background)
 
Further information about the Christmas Day Truce from the paper is recorded as follows:
ENEMIES.- “Stranger Still” (Heysham) writes: I found your answer to Uncertain about the 1914 armistice very interesting.  My trenches Christmas was 1917.  In our sector there was the usual activity, which was not as beastly as the other.  A nearby Scots division had a raid on their sector but according to my informant, at the time, it was soon repulsed. His words were “What a ____ way to spend Christmas! Could …….blame the ‘Jerries’, when according to older soldiers, 1915 Christmas found the Germans ready to again repeat the 1914 performance, but they were fired …. It was said British officers had orders to fire on any soldier who left the trenches in an attempt to fraternise with them.  Perhaps other readers could verify this statement or disprove it.  At the time, personally, I felt I was being cheated out of a very interesting experience. Northern Daily Telegraph 14/02/56.
 
 An article in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph published 23.12.1994 entitled: “Joshua’s War”  featured a report about Joshua’s daughter,  Freda Haworth, finding her Father’s diary in the attic. It was noted that Joshua had first enlisted in the army in 1902 and had already seen active service in Egypt when the war broke out.  He was 30 years old in 1914.  He suffered a gunshot wound to the chest during the fighting but it was more the long period spent in the flooded trenches in the bitter winter of 1914-1915 that severely damaged his health.  He died in 1936 aged 52.
 
 
​Extract from Joshua’s diary….
There was very little firing from the enemy all day on Christmas Eve.  When night fell we soon found out why.
Their trench was suddenly illuminated for miles by Chinese lanterns and braziers which they placed on top.  Our Xmas festivities there and then commenced. Invitations were soon flying across the “debatable ground” to help in the shifting of good things from home.
 
​After a while one of the enemy summoned up courage and came across the way with a searchlight playing on him the while.  One of D Company went out to meet him.  They shook hands between the two lines to the accompaniment of cheers, songs and “War Whoops” from a Battalion on our left – a sight seen once in a life time.  Makes a lump come sudden in a man’s throat.
 
Thus emboldened both sides came out in the open, now lit up by several search lights, a weird sight.
There was little sleep as the carol singers of both sides made the most awful din.  The Germans had good voices.  They seem to be trained choristers. One of their chaps gave us “For Old Times Sake” and didn’t we join the chorus!  Another, “Down South in Dixie”, both accompanied by a splendid cornet player.
 
After breakfast on Christmas morning parties of men went out to help the Germans bury their dead.  We challenged them to a game of football.  Their officers would not consent.
 
They gave us cigars and picture postcards.  We gave them a few tins of Bully, Cigarettes and other things as souvenirs.  Quite a lot of them speak very good English.
 
One officer of ours told a German officer about the bombardment of Hartlepool and Scarborough.  He could hardly believe it until our chaps sent his servant for newspapers.
 
Some of these chaps had the idea that they had only the British to beat, that Paris was in their hands, that the Russian Army was a thing of the past and Zeppelins had destroyed half of London.  “We heard of nothing but victories” said a Sergeant Major in my hearing.  We let them know the facts.  They made us an offer, said they would not shoot if we refrained from firing.  We kept the agreement till they broke it by potting one of our chaps in the leg three days afterwards.
 
 
 
 

A Thought on Christmas Day, 1914​

 There’s sorry in the sea-girt Isle,
The song of joy has fled
In the “happy homes of England”
There is mourning for the dead.
And Christmas comes yet it brings not
Its old-accustomed glee,
For the tears that steal down many a cheek
‘Twere pitiful to see
 
The aged father clasps his hands
And cries, “Oh! He was brave!”
The sorrowing mother’s sinking heart
Yearns o’er his distant grave.
His sister weeps o’er some dear pledge
He gave ere called to yield,
In health, in strength, his life’s best blood
Upon the battlefield.
 
Turn we from such a mourning group
To gaze on one who stands,
With pallid cheek and tearful eyes
And meek, uplifted hands,
To implore the Lord of life and death
(If tears or prayers may move)
To spare – in mercy rich to spare –
Her first – her only love!
 
Yet still there is a sadder sight!
Around the Christmas hearth
The widowed one who speechless sits
Unconscious – midst the mirth
Of infant hearts, that ne’er may know
A father’s love and care,
Yet ask with wonder why his name
Is banished from their prayer,
 
She gazes on his vacant place,
With fixed and tearful eye;
Intense mute agony,
At length a tear, her little ones
With wonder round her creep,
“And ask in childhood’s gentle tone
“Mother , why do you weep?”
 
Oh! aged parents , calm your grief,
Your boy indeed was brave;
Oh! hapless maiden hope no more,
His is a hero’s grave;
And oh! thou widowed one pray on
With those whom God has given
The weary, aching, broken heart,
Shall find its rest in heaven

Published in "The Blackburn Times", 24th December 1914


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