21-27 December 1915: Christmas at the 3rd London General Hospital

The December edition of the 3rd London General Hospital Gazette was produced with some Christmas cheer in mind, as it includes a poem “For a War Christmas” and a Timetable of the 25th.  A full report of Christmas at the hospital does not appear until February, as both the December and January editions were sent to the printers before Christmas.

The February edition even carries an explanation of why the January one did not have an account of Christmas

…a cautious scribe is shy of effervescing over events which, at the moment of writing, have not yet taken place… It would have been sae enough to compose an “intelligent anticipation” in the past tense, asserting that Yuletide had been a stunning success – and the risk of fire, earthquake, or Zep bombs preventing the consummation of the prophecy was one which would have deterred no modern journalist from so congenial an exercise of smartness.

It also has a write up from the Matron, describing Christmas at the hospital. On Christmas Eve, all the nurses went round all the wards with Chinese lanterns, singing Christmas carols.  The Ladies’ Committee of the hospital had spent the weeks beforehand gathering presents to make Christmas stockings for all the men, which the nurses put on the ends of their beds for the morning and had what the Matron describes as “the greatest joy at Christmas… watching the men wake up and find them in the morning.”  Buttonholes were given out on Christmas day by Matron and Mrs Bruce Porter, the Australian men got wattle (better known as acacia) in theirs.  Dinner was served in each ward, with turkey, plum pudding and crackers.  Queen Amelie of Portugal, who was a nurse, came in specially to have dinner with her patients – even getting a special cheer at the concert party which was given later.  HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, attended the afternoon tea part of the day with a special message from the King to the men – conveying his pride in them and wishes for a speedy recovery.  Afternoon tea also included a cinema showing, as it had been recently gifted by a Mr Nichols, an American who was a friend of the Commanding Officer.  It was all very different from the timetable of the 25th in a German Military Hospital which appeared in December’s Gazette, written up in sarcastic fashion by a returned Prisoner of War.Timetable of the 25th POW Hospital

The other reference to Christmas in December’s Gazette was a poem by H M Nightingale, “For a War Christmas”. Helen Nightingale appears to have been a nurse at the hospital, she frequently wrote poetry which appeared in the Gazette referring to nursing and caring for the men, as well as on the war in general:

For a War Christmas poem 1915

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14-20 December 1915: Preparing for Christmas

The majority of the newspapers which Wandsworth Heritage Service hold are on microfilm, we have a few early hard copy papers from the late 19th century and a set from the 1930s-1950s, but very little in between. Some recent moves in our stores revealed that we have a bound copy of the “Streatham News and Wandsworth Chronicle” from 1915 – the majority of the stories in it relate to Streatham or are duplicated in other local newspapers, so its late discovery doesn’t mean too big an omission for this blog, but if has given us a chance to look at some of the adverts preparing the borough for Christmas 1915.

George Pratt & Co advertOn the front page is an advert encouraging shoppers to buy presents now if they want them to get to the Front in time for Christmas. A range of clothing was available – for Officers and for “Tommies”, although the advert does rather suggest that Officers were top priority. The absolutely storm proof “Dexter ‘Dug-Out’ Coat” with an oil silk lining sounds both appealing for the trenches and rather more expensive than many soldiers might have been able to afford.

George Rogers AdvertFurther down the same page, an advert for George Roger’s “The Wool Emporium” encourages knitters to think about mufflers and mittens for the troop – and emphasises how troops are worse off with the phrase “You feel cold – remember your relative or friend in the trenches”. Khaki and Navy wool were both on good value offers.

Streatham Empire

Pre-Christmas entertainment was available at one of the local cinemas. The Streatham Empire had several films showing, including advertising a Special Xmas Programme which featured The Little Matchseller and Puss in Boots amongst other. The Grey Ladies Orchestra was accompanying these between 6.30pm and 10.30pm.

Francis & Sons AdvertFor those thinking about preparing Christmas dinner, Francis & Sons on Streatham High Road, Brixton High Road and Balham High Road were offering a range of fare. There were turkeys, geese and capons, as well as “fine and ripe” Stilton. If anyone knows why SunnieVallee tea would be in lead-packet, then please do let us know – it was selling for 3s6d, which was over a shilling more than the Fine Ceylon tea. For dessert, there was an advert for Bird’s custard, transforming even a plain pudding “into a delicious treat”.Bird's Custard

Finally, why worry about Christmas shopping? Just buy everyone a book, from Bacon’s Library:

Books are the Best Gifts

7-13 December 1915: Battersea Polytechnic

The December issue of the Battersea Polytechnic magazine includes an update on students and staff who were serving with the Armed Forces. An entire page and a photograph are devoted to Lieutenant F H Johnson, who recently visited the college whilst home on sick leave, mentioning that he had received a “slight leg wound in the Hill 70 action”. Lieutenant Johnson was covered in more depth in this post from the University of Surrey, he also won the VC at Hill 70 – something he didn’t tell the Polytechnic when he visited. The magazine also contains photographs and information about former students who had been killed in action, including Private Albert Alder, Sergeant S G Eaton, Private F N Dexter and Sergeant E T Croager.

Several accounts of life at the front had been received from former students, including an account of nursing in Serbia by Monica Stanley, who had been a member of staff at the Serbian Relief Fund Hospital in Kragujevacs (sic), and was a former Polytechnic student. She had previously been in Antwerp and France, and her experience in Serbia started with an epidemic of typhus. The hospital was lost to Bulgarian forces with the city, including an arsenal. Miss Stanley refers o having to spend much of her journey back to London in a cattle truck, but also refers to others who were travelling: “At the railway stations I witnessed the tragic flight of the refugees. All they had ben able to take with them they had wrapped up in large counterpanes or some sort of bed coverings, and the children looked very pitiful. They were all moving on, but where they were going to eventually nobody seemed to know. They appeared to rely upon the Allies.”

Battersea Poly munitions class, Dec 15The magazine also contains two images of munitions classes at the Polytechnic, with only a short paragraph to explain these further. Two members of staff, Mr Shaw and Mr Tottle, were congratulated on the work being done in the Engineering Workshops. They were training men in munitions work, but also hoped to have delivered 400 anti-aircraft shells before Christmas in addition to other work for the War Office. The shells in questions were apparently one of the “most difficult to manufacture”. The Engineering department had also lost their Instructor in Motor Engineering to the Admiralty, although he was not permitted to tell them what he was working on.

Current students were raising money for the Polytechnics War Fund, including the making of shirts which were sent to English, Belgian and Serbian Forces – so far over 1783 had been made and sent out. The War Fund report also listed the total numbers from the Polytechnic who had volunteered, two Governors, eighteen members of staff and three hundred and eighty four students up to December 1915. The Domestic Science students were raising money by producing “Polytechnic Plum Puddings” and other festive treats for sale, which the magazine urged reders to purchase as soon as possible due to limited supply.