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Christmas Past:1913

27 Dec Christmas Past:1913

The Independent newspaper published a poignant article at the weekend entitled, ‘The Gathering Storm’  which focused at the very start of the article on 6 young men who would perish in the 1914-1918 war.

  • Wilfred Owen spent a lonely Christmas teaching in Bordeaux. 
  • Raymond Asquith spent Christmas Day with his father, Herbert, at the family home at Easton Gray in Wiltshire.
  • Sandy Turnbull played for Manchester United on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
  • Jack Kipling went to the Christmas shows in London with his famous writer father, Rudyard, and then travelled with him to a chateau in France.
  • Alain Fournier was celebrating the success of his first novel, Le Grand Meaulnes.
  • Alfred Lichtenstein did not celebrate Christmas but spent the holiday at home with his wealthy, Jewish family in Berlin, discussing his recent military service and the publication of his doubly prophetic book of poetry, Diemerung (The Dusk).

Wilfred Owen would die on 4th November 1918 aged 25. Raymond Asquith died at the age of 27 in 1916 during the Somme campaign. Sandy Turnbull died in the Battle of Arras and Jack Kipling during the Battle of Loos. Fournier and Lichtenstein both died during the first months of the war in 1914. And yet on December 26th the Manchester Guardian newspaper commented:

Christmas Eve was perfect, at any rate for the comfortably dressed, and the West End shopping streets were happy places. Everyone was carrying parcels and none of them (one takes it) were carrying things for themselves, so for a moment things took in the look of an ideal world.

However, the Daily Mail newspaper had been highlighting the threat posed by Germany for years. Adrian Bingham Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Sheffield points out that this particular newspaper:

serialised in 1909 a series of inflammatory articles by the journalist Robert Blatchford, which, when reprinted as a penny pamphlet, sold some 1.6 million copies. The Mail had, moreover, consistently demanded that the Royal Navy be reinforced. It was soon styling itself ˜the paper that foretold the war’.

The newspaper stirred up anti-German hatred during the early days of the conflict reporting on alleged German atrocities; it was also critical of Britain’s recruitment strategy until the introduction of conscription and was responsible for glorifying the outcome of particular battles.

Beach Thomas, the Daily Mail’s main correspondent in France, rarely gave any indication of the grimness of the trenches or the horrors of the front lines. His report on the first day of the battle of the Somme in July 1916 the single worst day in the history of the British army, when almost 60,000 casualties were sustained  was typical of the determined optimism of his journalism ‘A great battle has been fought we are laying siege not to a place but to the German Army. In the first battle, we have beaten the Germans by greater dash in the infantry and vastly superior weight in munitions.’

 Not surprisingly:

The Mail greeted the end of the war with joy and exhausted relief, as well as a passionate desire to see a punitive peace imposed on the Germans.

And yet back in December 1913 an Observer correspondent in Paris wrote optimistically “a blue sky is showing above the rose of the dawn of 1914.”

References: The Daily Mail and the First World War-Adrian Bingham (History Today) and The Gathering Storm: A look back on middle-class Europe’s last carefree Christmas before the onset of World War One by John Lichfield (The Independent).  Please click on the links to read the articles in full.

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