Puddings and Parcels: Christmas fundraising in the First World War

Christmas is traditionally a time when we think of others and when charities launch special appeals to raise funds.  During the First World War this was even more important with so many soldiers and sailors serving overseas, separated from families and home comforts.

School log books record the charity fundraising efforts of the pupils.  At Gellidawel School in Tonyrefail in October 1914, the Headteacher recorded sending a  £1 postal order to HRH Princess Mary for her fund to provide Christmas gifts for servicemen.  The teachers had provided the prizes and there was a prize draw amongst the children, who paid a penny for each ticket [ELL26/2].

One Headteacher in Pen-y-bont School, Bridgend [EM10/11] wrote wearily in October 1914 that, due to the war and the many calls …it has entailed upon the pockets of the people…, he had not had …the face this year to beg for subscriptions… to the Christmas Prize Fund. However, funds were raised for servicemen and a sizeable sum of over £7 was sent to the Prince of Wales Fund.  It was used to purchase cigarettes, woollen mufflers and chocolates and sent to Old Boys stationed in Scotland.  He records having received a thank you from Sergeant Major Miles thanking the boys for …their Happy Christmas Box [EM10/11].

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Refugees from Belgium were not forgotten at Christmas. The Headteacher of Dyffryn Mixed School in Ferndale, recorded that money had been raised for the refugees by pupils collecting on Christmas Day in 1916 [ER15/1].  The minute book of the Rest Convalescent Home in Porthcawl also records help given to Belgian refugees;  …that the matter of providing extra diet etc. for the refugees and staff at xmas be left to matrons and chairman… [DXEL/3/5].

Concerts were arranged to raise funds.  Mr Leon Vint applied for a licence from Barry Council to open ‘Vint’s Place’, Thompson Street in Barry on Christmas Day in 1914 and 1915, with performance profits to go to the Barry Red Cross Hospital.  Romilly Hall was also to be allowed to open on Christmas Day for the same purpose [BB/C/1/20,21].  As well as raising funds, the opening of venues on Christmas Day meant that servicemen could be entertained.  Cardiff Borough Council gave permission for the Central Cinema, The Hayes, to be used on Christmas Day between 5.30 and 8pm for the …purpose of free entertainment for servicemen [BC/C/6/54].  Mountain Ash Urban District Council proposed a Sunday Concert at Abercynon Palace on 29 November 1914, …the proceeds to be devoted to the making of, and sending a huge Christmas box of cigarettes, tobacco, socks etc to the soldiers at the front [UDMA/C/4/12].

In 1916 The Daily Telegraph and Daily News were entrusted by the War Office to raise funds for providing Christmas puddings for soldiers at the front, and local councils raised funds to send to the charity. Porthcawl Urban District Council sent over £7 to the ‘pudding fund’ in 1916 [UDPC/C/1/10].

Local parish councils, churches, chapels and other organisations also sent morale boosting Christmas parcels to local men serving abroad.

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Amongst the records of the Cardiff University Settlement are letters of thanks from soldiers for parcels received at Christmas. On 19 December 1916, Gunner C Upcott writes to Edward Lewis, I beg to thank you and all the members of the University Settlement for their kindness in sending me the parcel and I do not know how much to thank you for your kindness.  It is something terrible out here with the rain and one thing and another but I hope the end won’t be long so as we can all meet once again (DCE/1/64).

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Private William Slocombe of Cardiff, who was awarded the Military Medal during the War, wrote to his mother, from the front, on 9 December 1916.  He asks her to buy him a …soldier’s diary… which has …a lot of useful military information and a small French dictionary at the beginning… I should like you to send me one if possible. It does not cost more than a couple of shillings at most.  He is also thinking of Christmas gifts for his family at home and sends a postal order for 10 shillings; It is for the kids and yourself… If you can get some chocolates for the girls so much the better.  I should like to give Pa some tobacco too’  Poignantly he writes …the circumstances are very different to last year aren’t they?  Your affectionate Son… [D895/1/3].

These records, and many more relating to the First World War, are available to consult at Glamorgan Archives.

Christmas Greetings from the Front Line

Amongst the documents held at Glamorgan Archives detailing the experiences of Glamorgan soldiers at the front are several letters sending Christmas greetings to family and friends at home.

Many are to be found within the Cardiff University Settlement Records. The University Settlement was established in 1901 by a group of academic staff at the University College Cardiff. They were seeking to improve social conditions in the more deprived areas of Cardiff by engaging in active social work with these communities, and they set up a base in Splott.

The University Settlement was divided into four separate clubs: the Lads’; Girls’; Womens’ and Mens’ clubs. On the declaration of war in 1914, many of the lads enlisted and were sent to fight at the front, in France and Belgium. Several kept in contact with Mr and Mrs Lewis, a couple closely associated with the University Settlement.

Mr and Mrs Lewis corresponded with members of the University Settlement Lads’ Club serving in the armed forces throughout the conflict, sending letters and parcels and receiving letters in return. The Lewis’ sent Christmas parcels to the boys each year, and many wrote to thank them for their generosity.

John Childs writes ‘I received the parsel alright and was very please with it. I hope that all the members enjoyed their Christmas as I am please to say I enjoyed mine… Remember me to all the members wishing them a happy New Year and may the war soon be over’.

On 15th December 1915, Mr Lewis received a letter from James Hawkey, stationed at the Front. Again, he thanks them for their kindness in sending a Christmas parcel, and assures them it has arrived safely, commenting ‘…I am in the pink and quite comfortable considering the circumstances’. He wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, finishing with ‘P.S. If I get a chance I will send at least one Christmas card…’.

Driver A. Morgan made the effort of writing a thank you note for his Christmas parcel on 20 January 1917, despite the fact that ‘…I cannot write a letter to save my life. It is not in my line’.

James Reece also wrote to thank Mr Lewis and the members of the Club for his parcel; ‘…the contents were just what I required and please thank the members of the club on my behalf for what they have done for us chaps out here’; and Gunner C. Upcott writes, ‘I do not know how much to thank you for your kindest’. The Christmas parcels from the Settlement were obviously very much appreciated and valued by the boys, not only for their contents but for the kind thoughts and good wishes they represented.

One of the Christmas communications stands out more than the others: a postcard from D. McDonald, a member of the Lads’ club who was serving in the Army during the war.

The postcard depicts the flags of the allied nations of the First World War – Belgium, France, the UK and Russia – beautifully interwoven with a thistle and the words Merry Christmas. It is hand embroidered on a piece of silk mesh. These embroidered postcards were mostly produced by French and Belgium women refugees working in refugee camps and temporary homes. The finished embroidery was sent to factories to be cut and mounted on card. Embroidered postcards were extremely popular with British servicemen on duty on France as they made such a lovely memento for their recipient. The central portion of the embroidery is cut as a flap and contains a tiny printed greetings card with the message ‘I’m thinking of you’.

The back of the postcard bears the message, ‘From D MacDonald to Mr and Mrs Lewis and wishing you a prosperous New Year’. There is no stamp on the card as it would have been sent via the military mail at no charge to the sender.

At the end of the war it proved impossible to resume the University Settlement activities as so many of the members had dispersed. The University Settlement Company was formally wound up in 1924.

Glamorgan Archives holds no further correspondence from the University Settlement lads after the war years. We do not know if they survived, or if they ever returned to Cardiff.