Christmas in Ypres, 1917

This is about a Christmas of a different sort to those normally associated with World War 1.

This was in Ypres in 1917.

This is from one of my grandfather’s diary. It shows that during the course to the war soldiers were moved in and out of France. Just prior to this he has received a commission and had spent time training in England as an engineer.

Lille Gate:

The Lille Gate or Rijselpoort in Ypres.

Ypres was badly damaged in the war, with the Lille Gate being relatively unscathed and housing a number of military headquarters.

Another snapshot from a year earlier:

Christmas Day On The Somme

’Twas Christmas Day on the Somme
The men stood on parade,
The snow laid six feet on the ground
Twas twenty in the shade.

Up spoke the Captain ‘gallant man’,
“Just hear what I’ve to say,
You may not have remembered that
Today is Christmas Day.”

“The General has expressed a wish
This day may be observed,
Today you will only work eight hours,
A rest that’s well deserved.

I hope you’ll keep yourselves quite clean
And smart and spruce and nice,
The stream is frozen hard
But a pick will break the ice.”

“All men will get two biscuits each,
I’m sure you’re tired of bread,
I’m sorry there’s no turkey
but there’s Bully Beef instead.

The puddings plum have not arrived
But they are on their way,
I’ll guarantee they’ll be in time
To eat next Christmas Day.”

“You’re parcels would have been in time
But I regret to say
The vessel which conveyed them was
Torpedoed on the way.

The Quartermaster’s got your rum
But you may get some yet,
Each man will be presented with
A Woodbine Cigarette.”

“The Huns have caught us in the rear
And painted France all red,
Pray do not let that trouble you,
Tomorrow you’ll be dead.

Now ere you go I wish you all
This season of good cheer,
A very happy Christmas and
A prosperous New Year.”

The author, Leslie George Robb, was killed in September 1917 and was buried 5 km south of Ypres along with many many others.

We have a lot we should be grateful for a century later.

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  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  December 25, 2017


    It was Christmas Day in the barracks,
    And the soldiers went sadly to bed-
    They hadn’t had no Christmas pudding,
    Cos the Sergeant had done what they said.

    Ypres in winter is hellish, even well before Christmas. What a wonderful document to have. My grandfather was too young, but there’s a photo of him and his brother looking very young and serious as some kind of cadets, The war ended before they were anywhere near old enough to go…lucky boys. Some as young and younger did and their names are on the bridge at Ypres.