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].
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.
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).
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.