Christmas during wartime

Front cover, 'Shells Tommy Likes', Blighty, Christmas 1917.
Front cover, ‘Shells Tommy Likes’, ‘Blighty’, Christmas 1917.

What was it like celebrating Christmas during the two World Wars? There are a number of books in the library that provide some insight into how people coped, both at home and on the Western Front. One of the most famous instances of Christmas spirit during the First World War was the temporary truce in December 1914. The British, French and German soldiers decided on a temporary cessation in hostilities during the Christmas period which resulted in exchanges of food and gifts, communal carol singing and a game of football. Several publications have discussed this event in detail including ‘Silent Night: the remarkable 1914 Christmas truce’ by Stanley Weintraub (2001), ‘Christmas Truce: the Western Front, December 1914′ by Malcolm Bruce & Shirley Seaton (1999) and ‘Meet at Dawn Unarmed: Captain Robert Hamilton’s account of trench warfare and the Christmas truce in 1914′ by Andrew Hamilton & Alan Reed (2009).

More details of Christmas during the First World War can be found in Alan Wakefield’s ‘Christmas in the Trenches’ (2010), while ‘A Wartime Christmas’ by Maria & Andrew Hubert (1995) explores personal memoirs from World War 2. The Christmas 1917-1918 issues of the First World War magazine Blighty have been digitised by the library and can be viewed on our website. They include pictures, stories, poems and humour and were sent to soldiers on the front.

For those who remained at home Christmas needed a bit of ingenuity. Mike Brown has written aninformative book called ‘Christmas on the Home Front’ (2004), which explains how those at home in Britain enjoyed Christmas. It includes recipes for ‘Mock Turkey’ and a Christmas cake in the shape of an Anderson shelter.