‘Many vacant hearths’ – Christmas 1915

“The question which everyone is asking is, will this year see the end of this war?”

Such are the words of L. R. Hancock, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Richmond, in his opening letter of the Parish magazine, January 1916. The Christmas and New Year period undoubtedly brought with it reflection on the year gone by, and musings as to the future. Flicking through several parish magazines for December 1915/January 1916, the tone is one of sadness, facing a second Christmas fighting what had initially been thought of as a ‘short’ war.

1915 had been a year of difficult lessons for the Allied forces. The British Expeditionary Force spent the year learning the techniques for a very new kind of war, lessons which came at a heavy cost. The gas attacks of Ypres in April had rendered many men unfit for battle, with an 8,000 yard stretch of front line temporarily abandoned. Allied command of the seas had not hindered German progress on the Eastern Front, and Italy’s entry into the war did little to compensate for Allied losses. The German Armies were also able to contain the British and French attacks during the Battle of Loos, and following poor performance in this operation, Sir John French was replaced by Douglas Haig as the Commander of the BEF.

It is no wonder then, that the local feeling in Richmond during Christmas 1915 was one of grief; “[We are] nearing Christmastide with its message of goodwill to all men. Yet never perhaps have the words appeared more out of place. Day to day the papers are full of tales of war with all the horror and bloodshed. Most thoughts are filled with battle than…peace.”[1]

Christmas 1915

‘With Best Wishes from the Front’, Image Courtesy of James Morley  Wikipedia Commons

Hancock had written previously, in December 1915; “it is distressing to think that in all human probability, this Christmas, like the last, will be shadowed by the sorrows of war. Many hearths will have a vacant place, and our Christmas will, in some respects, be solitary with so many of our men engaged in this deadly struggle.”[2]

On reporting the Church’s Annual Bazaar, the Christ Church Richmond Parish Magazine notes that; “Around us are many homes in which there is a deep sorrow over the loss of a loved one, or constant anxiety and dread. There is the great increase in taxes and the cost of living.”

Britain was still yet to spend a third and fourth Christmas at war. Having established the ‘formula’ for supposed victory, the Allied Forces entered into 1916 with the hope that future campaigns would be more successful than those that had come before it.


With thanks to Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library & Archive

Local newspapers and parish magazines for the Borough of Richmond upon Thames can be found at the Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library & Archive, Old Town Hall, Richmond. 

[1] St Luke’s Parish Magazine December 1915

[2] Holy Trinity Richmond Parish Magazine December 1915

Featured Image: Christmas at the Front, Soldiers bringing in mistletoe, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wn21-45a.jpg

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