As 2013 draws to a close, the coming New Year will see the nation commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War and the subsequent four years of global conflict that resulted in over 37 million casualties.
Here at The National Library of Wales, we have led a project in partnership with the libraries, special collections, and archives of Wales over the past eighteen months or so to mass digitise primary sources relating to World War One. This has resulted in an online resource which provides access to manuscript and archival sources, photographic material, recruitment posters, newspapers, journals and audio material which reveals the often hidden history of the First World War as it impacted all aspects of Welsh life, language and culture. The Welsh experience of World War One project was officially launched earlier in November.
Throughout the project, as an archivist, I have been working closely with the original material ensuring that the collections and metadata were represented accurately for the project. And, as it is nearly Christmas, what a better way of illustrating the content available than for me to highlight some of the historical sources that can be found in the digital archive that provides an insight to Christmastime during the War years.
Several Christmas cards can be found which are scattered among many collections. A good selection can be found here which were mainly addressed to Sergeant Major Richard Fear, the founder and organiser of the Aberystwyth Weekly Comforts for Fighters Fund, from soldiers serving overseas.
Letters of thanks were also written in the trench on Christmas Day thanking the generosity of the Fund in sending special Christmas parcels that usually contained a Christmas cake, plum pudding, chocolate and the usual supply of cigarettes.
A special addendum within the War Diary of the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers can be seen for the 25th of December 1916. A room at Bollezeele Station in northern France was hired, cleaned, furnished and decorated for a Battalion Christmas dinner. Six hundred men were served soup, turkey and vegetables, Christmas pudding and sweets which were washed down with stout and beer, and a concert followed which was given entirely by the men and lasted until eleven o’clock in the evening, when all were “well satisfied”.
However, the entry for Christmas Day 1917 provides a contrasting account. The dinners were served in the trenches, although noted that it was “thoroughly enjoyed by all”, and during the afternoon, gifts were distributed in the cold weather.
These, hopefully, provides one with a glimpse of what can be read and learned from the primary sources that are freely available on Cymru1914.org. Take an opportunity to see what you’ll discover yourself.
D. Rhys Davies