Christmas Day 1916 brought a good meal and presents for the signallers of 8th Suffolk as Sydney Fuller remembered in his diary:
"We had a good dinner - geese, beef, ham, plum-pudding etc. Also some beer. Each man received a pipe, (a "Dunhill's" "Campaign") as a present from Major Bull. We enjoyed ourselves very well. In the evening, one of the Sig' (Crickmore) came back to the billet mad drunk - a touch of the "D.T.s" I think. He tore every stitch of his clothing off, and wanted to fight everyone in the billet at the same time. We waited for some time, thinking he would simmer down, but he got so bad that, for the sake of peace, half a dozen of us sat on him till he went to sleep"
For others in the various Battalions of the Regiment, their Christmas days were of mixed emotions. 2nd Suffolk also enjoyed a "complete holiday" as their War diary put it, whilst the 4th Battalion had spent the day in the front line trenches near Maurepas. They had tragically lost one man killed and 3 wounded in the muddy trenches that day. Such were the dreadful conditions, that their relief that evening by a Battalion of the King's Regiment, took some time to complete.
However, as they were withdrawing from the lines, a Russian prisoner who had escaped from German captivity some miles behind the lines, scrampled across the mud of no-mans-land, to get to the safety of the Allied lines. It brought a humerous and morale boosting end to a muddy and waterlogged Christmas Day; the third the men of the Battalion has spent in France since they arrived in November 1914.
What would the New Year bring?
For the numerous men of the Suffolk Regiment held in PoW camps, the arrival of the festive season brought mixed emotions.
In Droitz PoW camp, No. 8699, Private Basil Dawes, was engaged in getting ready the Christmas pantomine entitled "Bombs and Bunkum."
For Basil who had been captured at Le Cateau with 2nd Suffolk nearly two-and-a-half years earlier, the farce of waring suffragettes armed with flaming bombs and policemen in novelty trousers was a welocme relief to the tedium of captivity.
Not many miles away from Droitz at Doeberitz, Basil's brother Donald, was also captured at Le Cateau
For Don, the Christmas panto at Doeberitz was something quite different to the comic farce at Droitz.
Doeberitz were staging a celebration of the greatness of Britain and her Empire. The production featured just about every great Englishman from history and his victories be they against enemy or now ally.
Nelson, John Bull, the Duke of Wellington were to name but a few, but there were also India maharaja's and Canadian Red Indians signifying the Empire across the seas. Costumes were manufactured to represent every slice of English society; Pearly Kings and Queens, a street-corner organ grinder (complete with monkey!), Henry the Eighth with just one wife (Anne of Cleves we suppose?), a court jester, clowns, a chimney sweep with blackened face and brushes, and a token village idiot, complete with smock and straw hat.
Then there was the sublime: Cowboys and Indians, Uncle Sam, George Washington, Little Red Riding Hood, a Knight in shining armour complete with a tabbard bearing the Cross of St. George and a jousting pole, and of course, Father Christmas. Perhaps the finest costumes of the cast belonged to the pair of singers who appeared in the final scene.
A finely-attired gent about town and his lady friend, dressed in matching outfits of an unusual design. His suit and hat and her dress, were finely constructed from the paper packets of hundreds of Wills 'Woodbine' cigarettes. Carefully kept, disected, spliced open and glued together, it too many months of hard smoking and painstaking work to amass and collate the necessary quantities required. The pantomine was a success with its loud sing-a-long's and stupid antics, but it gave a welcome relief to the boredom of captivity.
Though they were happy and relatively safe behind the wire, these caged birds like many men at the front, wondered whether it would soon be over in the New Year?
As his counterparts in 5th Suffolk vacated the Roundhouse, Signaller Sydney Fuller of 8th Suffolk was enjoying his first period of leave since he arrived in France with the Battalion the previous year.
On 27th November, he had left Boulogne bound for Folkestone, arriving there a few hours afterwards. After a journey by train, the following morning he was back home in his home town of Ely, having a good hot bath and a chance to relax in the quiet of his parents home for a few days before returning to the front.
"Reached home about 8 a.m." he wrote in his diary, "and had a good hot bath for a start - a good many "undesirables" had accompanied me from France. Having got rid of my "bosom friends" I turned in, and slept till 9 p.m. I then had a cup of cocoa, and went to sleep again, waking at 8 a.m. next morning."
For the next week Sydney completed "the usual 'leave' stunts" visiting members of his family. after viviting his aunt, he wrote in his diary "she supposed I like France much beter than England, as no doubt there was more excitement there. I assured her that it was most exciting at ties. Evidently she thought we were fighting with air-balls, or something of that sort. Ignorance being very obviously bliss, I did not destroy any illusions"
On 7th December, his leave drew to a close and Sydney was back on the train at Ely, heading for Liverpool Street station in London. The following day, he was once again crossing the channel arriving in Boulogne around noon. By early evening, he was back with the Battalion.
Leave was for men, like Sydney, a much looked-forward-to affair. Normally the average British soldier would be allotted one seven day period of leave every eight months. He would be allocated several small periods of leave throughout his service, but these normally ranged from a few hours to 48 hours in duration; long enough it was considered to get the men away from the front for a rest, but not long enough for any of them to make a dash for home.
Leave in the UK did have a great advantage as the balance of ones pay was given over in English pounds, rather than French Francs. However, men with anything between £5 and £35 in their pockets could get into all sorts of trouble in the countless bars, clubs and brothels that were to be found in any great town or city at home.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.