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A Sheffield Christmas in Flanders 1917

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Here is an undated newspaper cutting probably relating to Christmas 1917, which I found in an old scrapbook.



A racy account of how a group of Sheffield’s sons serving with the forces on the Western Front kept their Yuletide with the resource characteristic of their race, is given by Private Harry Walker, of 33 Cairns Road, Sheffield, of the 29th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.

Private Walker writes:

As Christmas drew near, with its remembrances of the good old times spent at home, we began to long for a real Yorkshire Christmas.  Many of the fellows in our unit – the 29th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C. – come from the neighbourhood of Sheffield, and many more from Lancashire, and the fellows of the latter are bound to us by similarity of dialect and customs, though “Uncle Joe” says a Yorkshire Pudding can’t be made in Lancashire!

A suggestion was made that we might be able to hire a room, so before long the prime movers of the scheme were busy drawing up a list of likely members of the party, and the next day they visited a suitable farm to make arrangements.  I was the interpreter- ‘interrupter’, my chums called me – and spent a busy half hour arranging for the hire of a room, stove, the housewife’s best crockery, a large table, and a table-cloth. For the last article we were to pay two francs, but we wouldn’t have done without it if the price had been ten francs.  Having arranged for these necessaries, we sought permission to come the following night (Friday) and prepare the feast.  We rushed back and made up our list for the party as follows: Six staunch Lancashire lads from Coppull, near Wigan: one Liverpool man, a baker from Bucks, a Scottie and five Sheffielders- “Uncle Joe”, a stalwart policeman from the Walkley division; W.H.Newsam and R. Newsam, of Crookes; and H. and J. Walker, of Crosspool.  “Uncle Joe” is better than a Clock Almanac.  He speaks the broadest of dialect, is full of wit, and keeps us in a roar for hours on end.  Anecdotes and long stories, quips, and cranks, all flow alike from him, and everbody agreed that he was indispensible.  We are a sober party, but Uncle Joe (Corporal Pearson is his correct name in the Army) was solemnly warned to see that we didn’t return to billets the worse for the feasting.  “Ah’ll look after t’ lads all reight” he said.

On the night of the 23rd we startled the pork butcher’s wife by ordering a piece of pork 6 ½ lbs. in weight which we left to be cooked; then W.H.Newsam organised a whip round, most of the fellows giving part of the contents of their Christmas parcels towards the ‘spread’.  The 24th was the busiest night.  We fetched the pork from the butcher’s shop, carried it and a whole bagful of other items across to the farm where out feast was to be held.  Having commandeered the stove and table, we ordered a gallon of milk, and began to make blanc-manges, jellies and so forth.  The chef was J.Walker and his creations simply staggered the party.  For want of better moulds we used corned beef, jam and butter tins, cleaned, and with the “fash” hammered down.  The chef d’oevre, however, was a six-pint trifle, containing buns, stewed pears, orange, custard and dainty strips of jelly, and was made in a dish lent by the housewife, who had never seen such a thing before, and she asked if my brother had been a confectioner, so I told her he had learnt the art through seeing trifles made at home.  All the evening I had to keep R.Newsam severely in check, first at the pork butcher’s, and then at the farm; otherwise there would have been no feast on the morrow!  As most of us are hearty eaters, Uncle Joe made us get a good dinner, so as to get a good chance at tea-time.  Messrs. W.H Newsam, J.Walker and J.H. Hankin (Coppull) spent most of the afternoon cutting up, turning out the jellies etc. and setting the table.  They had to do their own “interrupting” most of the time, but managed well.  It seems que er, however, that in this part of France quite a lot of the people cannot speak French, whilst even those who can usually prefer to speak Flemish.  By the way “Uncle Joe” has dubbed one man” the confiture – wallah” because he is so fond of jam!

When Uncle Joe entered the doorway he was amazed at the sight of the “spread”.  It was as follows:- 6 ½ lb. joint of pork, one huge plate of sardine sandwiches, 12 jellies and blanc-manges (each one pint), 1 large trifle, 4 cakes, 2 plates of biscuits, 3 plates of jam, 2 lbs. of stewed peaches,  1 quart of stewed prunes, and bread and butter.  Everyone had polished up his knife, fork and spoon for the occasion, and these were tastefully set out, with a ticket bearing the name of each man, to indicate his seat.  Cigars were laid out, too.  Surely a first-rate spread, considering that there had been no mail or parcels for three days, and the boys in the billets had bully beef for tea!  “Uncle Joe” was placed at the head of the table, and after singing grace together we asked him to carve, but he soon relinquished the task, saying “Ah con eight better nor cut up!”  As I said before, there were several fellows with rare appetites, but Uncle Joe made a special butt of one of the Sheffield boys, who, however, could stand all Joe’s sallies.  Said Joe, “Why, thaa’rt like so-and-so’s pop-shop; tha’ll tak owt”, whereupon his victim, unabashed, sampled a fresh dish.  Joe’s reminiscences of chapel-teas were highly amusing, especially a yarn about his former pit-fellows at Cranemoor.  “Tha noas, if ther’s a bun-feight they bring no snap to t’pit for three days afoor, but if it’s a ninepenny ‘am tea they eight nowt for a week”.

The burly corporal filled the head of the table, and constituted himself chairman.  He proposed toasts, thanked those responsible for the works involved, and filled the whole proceedings brimful with broad Yorkshire humour.  “Eigh up, lads, ‘ave yer all got yer tallies?”  Visions of regimental carefulness filled most of our minds, when he continued “Bi t’way y’re eightin’ Ah’m thinkin’ yer’ll explode an’ leav’ nowt but t’tallies”  “Gie us some of that theer pink stuff.”  “It’s blanc-mange” said someone.  “Way, ah know that, on’y owd Tommy theer doesn’t know an’ ah warn’t baan tell ‘im”.  After tea, cigars, cigarettes, sweets and fruit were tackled.  Meanwhile first one, and then another, comrade obliged with a song, and two or three quartettes and duets were sung, after which we had some round games.  Uncle Joe managed to get a quart of mild French beer, so we immediately struck up “ Little Brown Jug” followed by “ Simon the Cellarman”.  At 8 pm, plum pudding, with sauce and stewed fruit, were served.  The stewed peaches and prunes made the pudding much more enjoyable – a tip for Sheffield housewives.  The festivities closed with more songs.  We went into the huge farm kitchen and sang “Christians Awake,” and a quartette, followed by “ For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” which almost frightened the master of the house.  Then we exchanged compliments with the people, and were especially thanked for our good behaviour and the enjoyment we had given.  At nine o’clock we were back in billets.

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Great find ! I hope most if not all of them survived

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