Scars of War reading 3

As promised here as some of the readings/research made in West Norfolk for the Scars of War project in the autumn of 2018: The research for this piece was undertaken by Lindsey Bavin, manager at the True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum

The Christmas Truce

By December 1914 soldiers on both sides had settled into the routine life of living in the trenches of Northern France. Between battles there would be periods of quiet and trenches were often close enough that the soldiers began to banter and barter for items such as cigarettes.

An old pack of British Woodbine cigarettes, photographed at the Musée Somme 1916 of Albert (Somme), France – image from Wikipedia

One such soldier was Harry Bloom, the son of Charles and Jenny Bloom of 18 Checker Street. At seventeen he Joined the Militia and transferred to the Regular Army in 1906 for service in the Norfolk Regiment. He served in South Africa and India prior to the war. In 1913 he joined the Army Reserve and worked at Cooper Roller Bearings which became a munitions factory during the war. He married a woman called Jeannie and they lived at 11 Edwards Yard off Providence Street.

King’s Lynn, interior of the Cooper Roller Bearings factory. Image from Picture Norfolk

Mobilized on outbreak of war, Harry arrived in France with 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment on 16th August 1914. We are fortunate to have a letter describing his trench warfare experiences. He describes one narrow escape thus:

“I volunteered to take my section into a house to keep the German snipers out. The house stood in advance of our trenches about 20 yards from those of the Germans . . . About an hour afterwards they put nine shells into the house. I received a slight cut on the face from a splinter.”’

He also wrote about the Christmas Truce of 1914:

“About 8 o’clock on Christmas morning the Germans showed themselves above the ground unarmed: met us halfway between the trenches. They gave us little souvenirs, and we gave them cigarettes; they wanted to play football but we didn’t have one, so we spent the time talking.”

Harry Bloom was killed in action at La Basse 31st January 1915. He is remembered on the Memorial Window in All Saints Church.

Wulvergehm-Lindenhoek Road Military Cemetery where L/C Bloom is buried. Image from CWGC

We also have a letter of one Private Bertie Hutchings, of the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment who recalled his own experience of the Christmas Truce. He was in the trenches by Ploegsteert Wood. Nearby were the 126th Saxon Regiment of the German forces known colloquially as “The Saxons”.

“The Saxons were beckoning with their hands for us to go over to their trench. But we shouted over that we would meet them half way so Captain Unwin asked for a volunteer. I happened to be standing by the side of him at the time and it fell my lot to go over and meet one of the Saxons and a nice fellow he was, we shook hands and his first words to me were there any scotch territorials out yet as he was himself a waiter in Glasgow…We were the best of friends for the next seven days. We used to walk about on top of the trench or in front of it without anything happening…

The last day of the truce one of their fellows brought over a message to say they had orders to open fire with their automatic machines but their first shots would be fired high. Captain Unwin in return gave him a box of chocolates and they certainly acted according to the message. Then we were at war again.”

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