Although Christmas is over, news of Christmas from the trenches was still filtering back to those at home in Wandsworth. Arguably the Christmas Truce is one of the best known events of the war in 1914, and the Tooting and Balham Gazette carries a copy of a letter from Tooting solider Harold Macbeth, who was somewhere in France with the Queen’s Westminster Rifles. Macbeth was born in Tooting in 1890, the youngest of John and Annie Macbeth’s five children and in the 1911 census gave his occupation as an insurance clerk. He wrote to Annie on 29th December 1914:
My Dear Mother
I am snatching an opportunity to thank you for your last two letters, both of which I received in due time. We were again unexpectedly relieved on Boxing Day, when we were afoot by 5am. Such a Christmas Day! We were on top of the trenches in front of the barbed wire fraternising with the enemy, a Saxon regiment, quite a decent lot I should think but nothing like the Queen’s Westminster Rifles physically. Cigars and sweets were exchanged and I conversed with one in “Pidgin” French for quite a long time. He gave me quite a good cigar and I returned with compliment with a Woodbine (Ikey) and some few of the caramels you sent. They hoped with us that the war would soon be finished but, of course, we didn’t talk shop. We are boarded in a big store, and there is no room to write properly, and too much noise to concentrate attention. I am hopelessly behind with correspondence, having had no chance to acknowledge the various parcels and letters received at Christmas time. I helped Walkington from the firing line. It was a bullet wound, not shrapnel as in paper. Glad you heard from Wilson, whom I also helped. Please explain and apologise to any friends you may meet about unanswered letters. Hoping you are all well. With love, from your affectionate son,
The newspaper comment that “Tootingites were ever in the forward line when fighting – whether politically, municipally, or Imperially – was afoot”.
The same issue also reports on the first private to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal – Private Frederick William Joynt, who was 20 years old and had already been in the Army for four years. A fellow Tooting man told his parents that the last he remembered seeing of Joynt was of him running out under heavy fire to bring in a wounded lieutenant. The newspaper has actually reported Joynt’s name wrongly, his middle name was Arthur and it is possible to find his medal card showing his DCM award and that he served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on the Ancestry website, as well as to establish that he survived the war and was listed on the absent voters register for Bickley Street in Tooting in 1919. Sadly Harold Macbeth did not survive, he was killed in September 1916 and is buried in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval.
Tooting and Balham Gazette available on microfilm in the Heritage searchroom
Access to www.ancestrylibrary.com is available on all library computers