Katherine Brown’s Report on the podcast of “Voices of the First World War: Christmas at War”

This podcast offered some insight about the Christmas experiences of the men and women during the course of the war. The podcast was not in the style of a single interview, but a collection of experiences that began with the infamous Christmas Truce in 1914. However, I appreciated how they tried to collect a spectrum of accounts of what it was like during the Christmas season on the front line, at hospitals, prisoner of war camps, and at sea. There are accounts from men serving in Turkey or near Bethlehem. In contrast, there are also reports from nurses and volunteers at hospitals.  

Each account was accompanied by a brief introduction about the individual. I would have liked for their also to have been some commentary to link each account, to give facts and figures. For instance, there was an account from a conscientious objector, Walter Griffin, who talked about what it was like to be imprisoned during Christmas time. He made sure to verify that in prison, Christmas was a mundane, unannounced affair with carefully rationed, bland food. This experience contrasted vastly with many of the soldiers’ accounts of the food served on the front line; a majority of the accounts praised Christmas meals of pheasant, turkey, Christmas pudding, and alcohol during the war. I wanted to know more about the experience of the prisons; Griffin talked nonchalantly about the atmosphere of the prison. Was this the experience of other conscientious objectors? How many were jailed over the various holidays during war time? Did any help, perhaps, to create packages, letters, and gifts for the soldiers stationed away from home?

Of all of the various recollections, most of which were resplendent with talk of food and caroling, there was only one who talked about men dying on Christmas day. I thought this was interesting because unlike the truce, which was a rare occurrence, work commenced as usual for many committed to the war effort. George Wray, who was suddenly recalled back to France, talked about how the soldiers had pleasant expectations for Christmas morning. However, these hopes were quickly dismantled when the Germans had broken the line they had left. “Sad to say, we lost quite a few men,” Wray reported.

This comment raised some questions for me. The podcast had left out the perspectives of those celebrating Christmas on the home front. What was their experiences in creating the packages that the soldiers did mention throughout the experiences? The podcast mentions that Princess Mary set up a commission to provide a gift for the men serving at the front or the sea; this must have been a rallying effort that needed a lot of preparation

. What were the experiences of the wives and children at home, with their husbands and fathers absent? What about those that were informed that their men had died during the holiday season? Was there radio specials to raise spirits, or was Christmas a terrifying ordeal? It made me wonder if there are any surviving Christmas broadcasts that could also have been added to the podcast, to glean what it was like to have Christmas at home. After all, as mentioned in class, many thought the was would be over by the Christmas so it must have been a very strained time, especially as more and more Christmas holidays were spent at war.

Overall, the podcast was well organized and thought provoking. A listener can really begin to understand how, for many, Christmas was a beacon of light for men who soon became bitter and anguished by the continued bloodshed and torture of a war that seemed to never end. Actually listening to the cadence of their voices, years after, reaffirm how small things like Christmas pudding or gifts rallied the men and women during war time.

210 thoughts on “Katherine Brown’s Report on the podcast of “Voices of the First World War: Christmas at War”

  1. You bring up a really interesting point about how so many people believed the War would be over by Christmas. I mean, it’s not as if people had never experienced a holiday during a war, but to experience “the war to end all wars” or even to live through what Grayzel put as “the peace to end all peace” during such a monumental holiday must’ve been such a harrowing experience.

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