Information taken from Carrow Works Magazines held at the Norfolk Record Office
The Carrow Works magazines reflected the strong community of all those employed by the Colman family in Norwich. It would routinely document the births, marriages and deaths of its employees, chronicle its social events, inform readers with interesting articles and give details about the comings and goings of the Colman family itself.
Thus, when war broke out, there was much to write about which directly concerned the Colman family and their employees with news of those on active service and those left behind at home. In the first months of the war, 250 Carrow employees had enlisted of whom 88 were married with a total of about 180 children. Christmas was a particularly difficult time and much was done to bring some cheer to all those affected by war.
A Christmas Gift Service had been an annual Carrow event since 1901 with gifts usually going to local causes. On December 20th 1914 the 13th Annual Christmas Gift Service was held in the Carrow Club House.
This time it was felt that the needs of the ‘stranger within thy gates’ should be thought of, so it was decided that all gifts be sent to Belgian Refugees in England.
The gifts were largely clothes which had been made at home. 283 garments were sent and a small number of toys. The following year the annual service helped those suffering in war zones in France or Flanders. Gifts included clothing and lavender bags, the lavender having been grown in the Carrow Gardens.
On Boxing Day 1914 the wives and children of those who had gone to war were invited by Mrs Colman to a ‘Tea and Christmas Tree Entertainment’ at the Carrow Schoolroom. Some children were lucky enough to have their fathers home on leave and they went along too.
The April 1915 article recorded that a splendid tea of jellies, cream cakes and other tasty morsels had been provided. This was followed by crackers and, while the children on the whole were too young to understand the mottoes and jokes, they enjoyed the novelties inside and wearing the paper hats.
Afterwards there was an entertainment by Professor Greenie performing magic tricks. Some of his magic failed to convince the older children but his final trick impressed everyone as it resulted in a small gift for every child there.
The event ended with a Christmas parcel given to every child to open at home and the mothers were given a War Calendar as a souvenir of the occasion.
All felt that through the kindness of the Fairy Godmother many a young heart had been made happier at this otherwise sad Christmastide.
While the wives and children enjoyed their Boxing Day treat, Christmas on the front was no less magical despite the circumstances. In a letter from Colman employee Private J H Dawson of the Queen’s Westminsters, he wrote:
My Christmas was the most eventful I have ever or am ever likely to spend.
Dawson described how, on Christmas Eve, he witnessed a battalion exchanging Christmas greetings with the enemy who were in trenches 200 yards away. Several men went out and met them halfway and the soldiers exchanged cakes for wines. Two from his own battalion and two from another made their way into the German trenches unarmed “but as they had evidently seen too much they were kept as ‘souvenirs”.
No shots were fired that Christmas Eve night. Christmas Day was spent conversing and exchanging souvenirs with the Germans. Some of the officers took photos of the occasion. “These were three Saxon regiments and were decent fellows”.
Dawson himself received a 1 pfennig coin, a signed card and some chocolate.
Others spent their Christmas in different circumstances. An article from the April 1916 magazine was entitled ‘How We Spent Christmas’ and was written by “Jock”, one of only four soldiers spending their Christmas in the Norwich District Nursing Home.
Waking up on Christmas morning we were surprised and delighted to find a large stocking on each of our cots.
In the afternoon “Jock” and his comrades enjoyed a musical entertainment and on Boxing Day they were welcomed to the home of Mrs Beck in The Close. The following day they helped at a children’s party and the day after they were the guests of the Lady Mayoress Mrs Southwell.
Children at Carrow School also helped to give a little bit of Christmas cheer by sending parcels to all ex-pupils serving in the Army or Navy. The contents of the first parcels were a mixture of small treats and much needed essentials:
- A diary and a pencil
- 6 packets of cigarettes
- 1 tin Boric acid powder
- I tin Boric ointment
- 1 tin lozenges
- 1 tin candies
- 1 booklet (One & All magazines, December and January)
- 2 handkerchiefs.
- 2 woollen articles
- Motto card for 1915
- Norfolk News (current week)
- Note paper and envelopes
- 1 bundle bootlaces
For the second Christmas of the war, parcels were once again sent to those on active service. Most parcels went to France and some to the Dardanelles. Some went to HMS Ark Royal which was “somewhere on the sea . . . no matches might be sent on account of the great amount of petrol used on board”.
The April 1917 magazine reported that Christmas parcels in 1916 were sent to Egypt, Salonika and France. These had been packed in waterproof paper and then carefully sewn in calico. The gifts were understandably well-received and the children received many letters of thanks. Sergeant R. J. S. wrote from France:
It was a great and pleasant surprise – every article will be most useful, and great care must have been exercised in the choice. It is nearly twelve months since I left, but I can plainly see I am not forgotten.
What is clear in his letter is not only his gratitude for the items sent but how reassuring it was that he had not been forgotten. Many soldiers had been away from home for a long time and needing to be remembered and to be reminded of home was a common theme in wartime letters.
By Christmas 1915 the country was continuing to endure the nighttime blackness because of the fear of zeppelin raids. This caused many difficulties throughout the year but at Christmastime the children’s concern was ensuring Santa still knew how to find his way. An article in the January 1916 magazine gave Santa some sound advice while also taking the opportunity to make a pointed comment about those who had not yet enlisted:
One wonders how darkness will affect Christmas. Children who are on good terms with “Santa Claus” will have to warn him to obscure his head-lights and to exhibit a red rear-light. . . . . . Let us hope he finds the right chimneys, for a pop-gun intended for a younger brother would be hardly welcome by the bedside of a slacker, who had so far dodged the khaki.
If Santa was to find his way then it was equally important that he had some toys to deliver. A small toy-making enterprise was set up in Norwich which addressed both the problem of women with no work and the need for toys in wartime as many had previously come from Germany. The factory was at 5 St Margaret’s Street, off St Benedict’s Street. From humble beginnings it grew to be very successful.
The present season finds us busy with orders for Christmas from London firms such as Messrs. Gamage, Liberty, Harrod, Gorringe and others.
Although the war ended in November 1918, many continued to be on active service. Christmas parcels continued to be sent to those overseas.
Owing to the uncertainty of their movements, several did not receive their parcels until the New Year, but the delay in delivery did not render the gifts less welcome.
Following the armistice, the annual Christmas message expressed the thoughts of the nation; joy for the safe return of loved ones and remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Compiled by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger