Christmas 1917 – few tidings of comfort or joy.
As the country prepared for a fourth wartime Christmas there was little to bring cheer to the families on Tyneside, as the army on the Western front hunkered down for a winter respite with few grounds for optimism for the coming year.
At home, rationing of what food was available had begun and for the troops there was only the prospect of another Christmas in the trenches.
On a strategic level the Russian government of the Workers and Sailors Soviets, which had been taken over by Lenin and the Bolshevik section of the Communist party had signed a temporary armistice with Germany in the East that would eventually lead to the release of large numbers of German troops, who could be transferred to the Western front and provide the basis for the final throw of the dice by General Ludendorff in the spring.
The few grounds for optimism were centred around the reinforcement that the entry of the United States into the war in April 1917 would provide. However, so far that had made no impact in terms of fighting strength on the ground in France.
In a fitting Christmas episode General Allenby’s troops had entered Jerusalem on December 9, as Turkish troops were being forced northwards out of the Holy Land.
Allenby, in a gesture of humility would enter the city on foot. The consequences of this change of control of the places sacred to the three great Abrahamic faiths are with us to this day.
Yet, some optimism there was. Each year, from 1916 through to 1918 there had been a debate on New Year’s Day on the prospects for the war and the year to come. Held at Talbot House in Poperinghe west of Ypres – the place of refuge from the horrors of the war and quiet contemplation for men of all ranks, established by the Reverend Tubby Clayton, the founder of Toc H, the debate on the motion ‘This house believes the war will end this year’ had been carried on each occasion but only just on January 1, 1918.
That the war would end in 1918 was not even foreseen as late as September 1918, and the darkest hours of the war for the Allies would come just 12 weeks into the New Year.
The first talk for 2018 at the Low Lights Tavern will be on Tuesday, January 16, at 7.30pm and will be a second opportunity to hear about two local men, who survived the war, and later committed their memories to paper in vivid and contrasting ways. Two Brothers – One War will be presented by Alan Fidler with the experiences of Thomas Baker Brown MM and George Brown telling the horror, humour and heroism of the war in their own words.
The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields will is now closed and will re-open on January 3.