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Christmas during World War I

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This holiday season, learn more about what Christmas was like for men in the U.S. and Commonwealth militaries during World War I—through the words of the men themselves. Fold3 has numerous histories, narratives, and even books that capture how the holidays were (or weren’t) celebrated by the men “over there” during the Great War. A few are excerpted below:

“To add to the worries the first shipment of rations was lost in transit but the boys made merry on tomatoes and onions for Christmas dinner.” –Richard Charms, 21st Engineers, WWI Officer Experience Reports – AEF

“It was snowing as the train pulled out and just enough had already accumulated to give the countryside a real Christmas appearance. The atmosphere, cool and bracing as it seemed to us when we boarded the train, turned out to be, as our journey lengthened into hours, downright cold and disagreeable, heat unfortunately not being a necessity for military travel in France.” –E.B. Tolman, 505th Engineers, WWI Officer Experience Reports – AEF

“Christmas day all Catholics were allowed off ship to attend Mass; men who had never seen the inside of a Catholic church turned Catholic for the day.” –Louis E. Clark, 6th Engineers, WWI Officer Experience Reports – AEF

“On Christmas day, the ‘Northland’ steamed into Liverpool and anchored. Christmas dinner consisted of jam, slum, bread and meat, meat which not even the best of Epicureans could name, but openly suspected by all to be a species of the sea-gull.” –16th, 17th, and 19th-21st Aero Squadrons, Gorrell’s History – AEF Air Service

“During the Christmas holidays it was expected many would get furloughs or passes to go home for the day. These leaves did not materialize owning to a ruling of the Post Commander, possibly issued because of the measles epidemic, which was daily growing worse.” –47th, 49th, and 50th Aero Squadrons, Gorrell’s History – AEF Air Service

“A great deal had been heard or read about our troops fraternizing with the enemy during the Christmas seasons of the previous years of war, but there was none of that during the Christmas of 1916. There was no cessation of hostilities. The lines were held with the same keenness, and there was considerable aerial and artillery activity throughout the day and night.” –Over the Top with the Third Australian Division, Military Books

“Christmas was hardly a ‘cheerful’ day. When the rain and duties permitted we spent the time trying to make up some back sleep which was urgently required. Everybody attempted something in the nature of X’mas dinner of course, though there was little but rations to do it on and it had to be consumed standing up, holding food or mugs at arm’s length, to avoid the cataract from one’s hat.” –The History of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, Military Books

Learn more about Christmas or other holidays during World War I by starting a search on Fold3.

62 Comments

  1. Thank you for the little glimpse of what WW 1 was like on Christmas. My grandfather , Oscar Michael Sharer, was a part of Motorcycle Co. 322 M.T.C.-A.E.F. in France 1918-1919. I never knew him but inherited a hard bound book with the men and their photos. It was given to them in memory of their service. Sadly that and a few photos is all I have to remember him by. Sincerly, Alice Sharer Boni

    • How fortunate that you have that book, Alice.
      A precious heirloom of our best and bravest.
      Jessica

    • Hi Jessica, Yes I feel very blessed to have it. I keep it out of the light but I notice the inki is fading.I forget that it is a 100 years old. Bye,Alice

    • Have the book copied by a professional photographer or do it yourself, some of the fading can be improved in photoshop, but as time goes by and it fades forever it will be too late so do it now

    • You can copy the book to the memories section of a website called Familysearch.org.(It is a free genealogy site) That way, many people will be able to see it. Pictures can indeed be sharpened by using photo shop and then saved. The Family history centers of the LDS chuch can help you get the pictures downloaded to the web site and it will be preserved. You might even be able to find others who had relatives that served in the same unit. Good luck.

    • My grandfather had donated two family photograph albums to the Carnegie Library which they have kept in the Oliver Room Special Collections. The room is regulated for careful preservation. You may consider finding a place like that but they also will give you information on how to best preserve these type of things yourself.

    • Thank you Brenda for the suggestion. How very generous of your father to share his memories with the world. Alice

    • Get your book transcribed as soon as you can before it fades away forever and all those memories are lost

  2. My father Dover Hinkle was in Kerhuon, France Christmas 1918.
    He might have been victim of the Spanish Influenza.
    Anything written about that place and time (Sept 1918-Jul 1919) would be nice to learn of.
    I do know of the work of Base Hospital 65. Much is written on it.

  3. The British side of my Hemming family had only two men serving in World War I.
    Lt. Frank James Hemming, MC, 2nd Worcester regiment, was killed in action in the trenches in 1918. His body was never recovered. He is memorialized on the Paschendale Monument. Frank’s older brother, Capt. Geoffrey William Hemming, DSC, CdeG, Royal Flying Corps, was a WWI Ace (6 kills). He survived the war, but was killed in a training accident at Calshott in 1926. Frank was never married; Geoffrey married, but had no children. These were the only two men of military age in their generation of the family..

  4. Thank you, to days society forgets how difficult those days were. My grandfather was a Jenny mechanic.

    • Lynn,

      I would like to know more about your grandfather’s service as a Jenny mechanic. I just finished a documentary about the Punitive Expedition titled Patton and Pancho. There is a segment in the film on the air section of General Pershing’s force in Mexico. I wonder if your grandfather was with him. I am a university-based military historian. Hope to hear from you.

      Dr. Vernon L. Williams

  5. Thank you to all our brave men and women . None of us would be here today. We will remember them on Christmas day and be thankful for what we have .Robyn.

  6. How precious to have this glimpse into past Christmas days of our soldiers…Merry Christmas.

  7. I bought an all access Ancestry membership 6 weeks ago. I bought it overt the phone and the associate didn’t tell me I would get.an email from you and I would have 5 days to respond. allenekbrewer@gmail.com.
    Allene Brewer Rauh

  8. Please unsubscribe me

    • Gary if you go back on this email where you had to click continue reading there is a place just below that and your email address that you can do it yourself.

  9. My grandad was in France, but i don’t know exactly where, he was in Royal army service cor, there were some clues from his letters and he was in there in 1917 and we managed to conclude he was in and around Amiens.
    I know he was a butcher by trade and while over there rumour was he was involved with looking after the horses and he did some cooking. Was billeted for a time at a french farm.
    His name was Fred Garratt, any info would be wonderful.

    • Pamela, there are a number of “Fred” or “Frederick” Garrat(t)s in the WWI records, but I could only find one in the Service Corps – he was a driver, served from 1916 t0 1920, and was mustered out with two medals, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. So if he survived all the years of the war in that capacity he was pretty lucky. He would have been transporting people, supplies, even horses from behind the lines to the front lines and back – dangerous work. You can be proud of him.

    • My Grandfather, David Burt, was part of the Army Veterinary Corps in WW1 in which I believe he was stationed in France, I have a photo with him with some of his mates. I also have a photo with him in an apron outside a building which I think is the cook house. I cannot find much about the AVC or what they did. Did he look after the hoses or would he have been a cook?

  10. Thank you so much for this. My paternal grandfather served in the US Army in France after the US entered the war. He never talked much about his days in uniform or the war.

  11. I have 4 generation’s of Veterans with so many untold stories. I’m to young to have met my Great Great Grandfather who is a WWI veteran. Thank you for telling the history of our Veterans.
    On a side note will the Fold offer the for purchase of the coin? I bought one and it more than enough paid for itself. I’m very much interested in this Fold of Honor coin. Thank you.

  12. My grandfather Wayne Loyer always said he was a conscientious objector, but served for two years as an ambulance driver in France.

    • Conscientious objectors often served as ambulance drivers. They were the unsung heroes of the war. They did not carry weapons, and were always in the thick of the fighting, bringing wounded servicemen back to the field hospitals. Although a CO was often reviled during the war years, neither they nor their descendants have anything to be ashamed of.

    • My husband’s uncle, also a conscientious objector, also served as an ambulance driver in France during WWII. He was with Australian 11th Field Ambulance. Determined to do his bit though not prepared to fight. Those men were as brave as any soldier.

  13. My father was in WWI. Received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He was a medic. I figure he was in France at Christmas as he stayed a while after the armistice was signed.
    .

  14. Love the stories and memories.

  15. Mu uncle, R. B. Howard drove a munitions truck, delivering ammo to the front line. His diary named every town he passed. On one occasion th truck in front of him was blown up completely, of course killing the driver.
    My father, R. L. Howard, was also in France in WW I and also kept a diary.

  16. My mother told me her oldest brother Lewis Ashby Harris was a WWI soldier. He died before I was old enough to know what that might have meant. I wish I could learn more about his service.

    Jan Abernathy

  17. my g aunt was nurse ww1. her name was hilda samsing, very well known in australia. she was 45 when she went to war,and was there the whole time. i,m very proud of her anne steel

  18. My father, Charles Ferrill Amacker, who was an Army dentist in France did not talk much about WWI, but sang some of the songs which were popular with the troops there.. After that war, he got a patent on his medicine to treat trench mouth. He served on the Selective Service Board during WWII in Louisiana.

  19. My grandfather, Lewis Holtan, was an American soldier in France during WWI and that’s pretty much all I know about him. I do have a copy of a letter he sent to his younger brother when he arrived in France, but he never talked about his service there. The only thing I know for sure is that he had shrapnel in his back which they could never remove because of location and that he was gassed while he was overseas. People who knew him before his military service said it completely changed his personality. He also told us that he had received a Purple Heart, but he was so angry when he got home from the war that he threw away all of his awards. Unfortunately, I don’t know how true any of this is because his records were among those lost when there was a fire at the VA (at least I think it was the VA). But I do know that he served in WWI as I have a picture of him in his uniform and the letter that he sent his brother. I often wonder how those young men fared away from home at Christmas.

  20. My great Uncle Sergeant Edward Shannon was killed at the Battle of the Argonne Forest along with 9 others September 28, 1918.

  21. My grandfather, Charles Peter Kiefer, was an American Army soldier who served with the Rainbow Division in WW1. All I was ever told was that he was with tanks, but do not know in what capacity. I have his Army portrait which is dated 1918 on the back. I had the pleasure of knowing him til I was a teenager, but never thought about asking any specific questions. He never brought up the subject on his own.
    I had several uncles and an aunt in WW2 but again they never talked about anything and I never thought to ask anything. I never really got into genealogy until I was about 50 yrs old. By then, everyone was gone. Wish I had started sooner.

  22. The stories and comments from others is very interesting.

  23. Letter from my grandfather Robert O. Clinefelter to his mother from Base Hospital 76 in France, dated Dec. 30, 1918

    “This Christmas was like last year–under quarantine, so didn’t have such a good time as might be expected. We each received a sock from the Red Cross–or rather a pair of them–with a couple of packages of cigarettes, a couple of sacks of Bull Durham, candy, nuts etc.”

    Grandpa had been captured in the battle of Chateau-Thierry and was a newly released POW when he wrote this.

  24. My Father who served in WW11,for 5 or 6 years,Father of 8 in Rochester NY 14611
    His Name Stanley Edwin Cooper JR.,he died Dec. 31, 1970

  25. My uncle Sgt. Clarence Bailar was killed in France during WW1. He was just 22 years old and had been drafted into the Army. One of the men in his unit sent his mother (my grandmother) a beautiful letter. Unfortunately we never got his body back so he is an “unknown soldier”. He and his platoon were in a foxhole when an artillery shell landed on them. But for many years the Army asked my grandparents to go to Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco when they had a patient who resembled my uncle. His brother went to the hospital to try and identify one patient but his face was beyond recognition and he had no memory. Besides, one other family was “certain” the patient was their son and rather than upset my grandparents again, the matter was dropped. We never knew if it was Clarence or not but the patient had red hair and was the right height. The other couple lived in Watsonville, CA. and operated a bicycle shop. I’d love to discover some day if it was really their son or my uncle.

    • Your story is interesting. I wonder how often something like that question of identity happened. The WW1 draft registration forms are easily viewed on ancestry.com. They include hair color info. If you are keenly interested in digging, you could probably get a list of all in your uncle’s platoon and then search by name to look at their draft forms. It could lead you to the other “red-haired” boy. If there was one. Hmmm.

  26. I wasn’t aware that Fold3 was interested in collecting this type of information. During WWII, my father served in an ATB in the Philippines and my uncle in the 101st Airborne. I have a number of documents, including a copy of the ATB’s Christmas menu, letters to home during that time, a program from one of my uncle’s Unit Citation Ceremonies, a picture of the 101st posed in front of the Eiffel Tower and several awards and Certicates of appreciation from other countries, as well as candid photos of them during their “down time”. Would you be interested in digital copies of this information? If so, please have someone contact me at the email below.

    Thank you

    • Dear Toni,
      My uncle was in the 101st airborne. He was a medic and one of the first to parachute in and land on Normandy on d day. His name was Arthur A Mickel. Any names or info written on the pictures? I would love more info and to see pic. I can send my email if you can scan pic and send it along with other info you might have.
      Marilyn

  27. My father & his older brother Benjamin served in WWI & both survived. .

    My dad was severely injured July 1918, in the 2nd Battle on the Marne–Chateau Thiery. I have discharge papers, his purple heart, two French service medals & the ‘service-provided’ expandable ‘spy-glass, a group photo taken at Camp Merritt, NJ; also his photo in uniform while initially at Camp Funston, KS. He passed on in 1977 & still bore the deep scar on his left side but he never spoke of that period of life. I’ve learned a little of his story at the Nat’l WWI Museum in Kansas City MO, but I’d love to know more of his story.

    • There is a book about Camp Merritt published by Arcadia in 2016. David Clemens and I just published an Arcadia book about Camp Upton where many 77th Division soldiers trained.

    • If you know, or can find out, what his unit was – there may be a unit history out there. I know that many of the British regiments have official histories, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find that American units do as well. They usually give fairly complete details of significant battles the unit took part in, with special emphasis on what that particular unit did in the battle, such as “defended the bridge over the Marne against three separate sorties by the enemy, losing 82 KIA and WIA in the process.” Sometimes you even get lucky and your ancestor will be mentioned by name if they did something significant in the engagement. Check with the Department of the Army or Google the name of the unit and you may find something. For an example, see the post by Suzanne Johnson above.

    • I didn’t realize there was such a museum. I’ll definitely check it out.

  28. Why! The higher being in our life. From what ever culture we come from. Mine is my Lord. Who is to say what different people believe. If we would look inside of ourself’s and others we are the same. If that is not a higher being of a miracle I do not what is. If everyone on our earth would love one, two or more from our souls (we do have souls not just hearts) Our life as brothers and sisters could have such a better life We would never again have to have war and grieve for our holiest of holidays. and love ones. For all people are taught to be evil and an the birth of a helpless child believe that is who we are born our innocents.
    Hatred controls what we are taught when we grow only. Our souls can be ours again. We can love not hate. That is when find our selfs no mader what our back ground is but our soul can be good.

  29. Are there any stories passed down about the men of The Lost Battalion? That being the name given to the nine companies of the United States 77th Division, of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) stationed in France, roughly 554 men, isolated by German forces during World War I after an American attack in the Argonne Forest in October 2-8, 1918. The 77th Division was a New York outfit, known as “The Times Square Division,” from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. My Great Uncle, Ralph Troise was from Brooklyn and one of the Lost Battalion so I would think he was in the 77th Division I imagine. He survived but suffered from the terrible effects of the mustard gas used in WWI.

  30. I had an uncle Joe Cerullo who was in WWI. I heard a story about him which may be true or apocryphal. He found himself behind enemy lines with his pack mule. He used his shoemaker skills to gut his dead mule and sow himself inside and survive on handfuls of skunk cabbage from the forest floor (Argonne?). He only alighted from his hiding place after he could no longer hear German voices (supposedly the Germans did not take prisoners alive) and only heard American ones. How can I find out more about him and his service?

    • That is so interesting. Gosh, I don’t know where you could research that. Your state it local WWI genealogy group may have files on him.

      Have you checked newpapers.com?

    • Kristin the first thing you are going to have to do is to pin down what unit he served in and the dates of his service To do that you’ll need his full name and date of birth – you can then follow his service and see if there are “secondary” sources, like histories of his unit written by members or by someone who is researching that unit. I’d expect that kind of story to be in such a history! Have you tried to find his “draft card?” It is probably available on Ancestry.com (and if you aren’t a member, you can wait until they have one of their “free” periods – or take advantage of their introductory 2 week offer for free and see what you can find. I think the local paper would have printed that story if he told it when he first got home.

  31. “ANZAC DAY” …….”LEST WE FORGET” These are words to “COMMEMORATE.” the “GALLANTRY” of those “MEN AND WOMEN” who gave “THEIR ALL”…….. That we might live “IN PEACE”

    “GOD BLESS THEIR SOLES FOR ALL ETERNITY”

  32. My husband’s grandfather was a Polar Bear (group was mostly from Detroit, Michigan area) who served in WWI but sent to Archangel after WWI ended, as military presence was still needed there. They didn’t get to go home but were sent to a place with horrible conditions, often with inadequate clothing.

    They were iced in and couldn’t leave until the spring. I can’t imagine what it was like that Christmas or any others that any soldier experienced. Probably missing families and still needing to be on alert. I also can’t imagine what it was like for those back home during Christmas times for all of WWI.

    We are all so fortunate that these brave women and men put so much on the line for us, their families too.

  33. I have the original letter my great uncle wrote while in a hospital being treated for exposure to mustard gas in the trenches. His pay had not caught up with him so he had no money. He wrote that the Red Cross was serving cookies and hot cocoa but it cost a nickel so he had no “treat” that night.

    • My father was in the 2nd Division, 9th Infantry in WWI and had a nearly identical experience of not having any money (because he had been in the trenches for months) to pay the Red Cross for coffee and a donut. He died in 1988 without ever having given one red cent to the Red Cross. None of the noncombatants standing around offered him a nickel.

  34. Hi, I don’t know where I picked up this site from. What caught my eye as I opened up this morning was the title. My grandparents lived at 3, Fold St. Droylsden, Manchester. My grandfather was in the East Lancs in WW1, and fell down the stairs, at 3, Fold St, in 1920, and died. It took a long time to find out anything about him…James Miller. Looks like an interesting read.

  35. Hi Pat,
    I found the answer re: your question, Why the name Fold 3. The answer is located in the introduction area of the Fold 3 web site.
    Fold 3 comes from a traditionaal flag folding ceremony.
    The third fold is made in honour and remembrance of veterans who served in defence of their county and to maintain peace throughout the world.

    • Thank you Deborah,
      I vaguely remember that. We had an awful struggle finding out about my grandfather. I’d posted on all the sites that I could find. So the coincidence got to me.
      Many thanks,
      Pat

  36. To Toni and Marilyn re: 101st Airborne and D-Day.

    My Uncle , Howard Ross Porter was also a medic in the 101st.

    He landed at Normandy on D-day, survived the landing, was seen by several buddies, they got separated in the commotion and sadly discovered Howard shot and killed a bit later that morning.

    In case anyone has family who may have known or remember Howard.
    ( He was from Eagle Grove, Iowa)

    Thank you,
    Debbie

  37. The juxtaposition of the VN “Peace” Accords & this article on the Great War is interesting. That was a War we should have sat-out. Kaiser Bill had no designs on any US territory & we could have continued our normal intercourse with Europe no matter what shape it would have taken after the Europeans had their fill of killing one & other. The Great War was also fought largely with a draft Army. BTW, some of the best soldiers I served with in RVN & other Cold-War locations were draftees. I had a great-uncle (1st generation US) draftee in the War & a great-grandfather (1870’s immigrant from Baden) (the soldier’s future father in law) put in protective custody for protesting when the doughboys marched off.

  38. My Father was in France in WW1 and got that Mustard gas that the Germans released. He gave his life for his Country. He died at the young age of 38, 3 months before I was born. I have pictures of him in his uniform, a letter he wrote to my Mother while at a Veterans Hospital where they could not help him, and the flag that was given to my Mother.

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