Christmas time in days gone by.......
Below are a few short stories and details of what the Worcestershire Regiment were doing at Christmas time in the past. Covers the periods of the Boer War (1900), First World War (1914-18) and the Second World War (1943-45).
Christmas 1900 (South Africa) - 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
In December 1900, the 2nd Battalion formed part of General Clements' force operating against the Boers to the North of Pretoria in the Magalusberg Valley. On 13th December General Clements' Column received a severe blow from a Boer Force under General De La Rey at Nooitgidacht. The column, however, was reconstituted and made up in strength and started down the valley on 16th December. A half Battalion of The Worcestershire Regiment went with him. They had been left in camp on the previous occasion. The half Battalion was made up as follows: Commanding Officer Major Edwards, Adjutant Captain Alderson, "C" Company Captain Lang, "D" Company Lieut. Eliot, "F" Company, "G" Company Captain Lewis, and Lieut. Rose. They marched down the valley, clearing it of Boers as they went, and turned up North through Oliphants Nek and arrived at Walhuters Kop on the 24th December 1900, having marched 18 miles that day. On Christmas Day the rouse went at 2.45 a.m., and they started at 4.10 a.m. and marched 8 miles to camp at Commando Nek. Here the Headquarters Companies had sent us their Christmas fare. The men got a pint of beer each and the best that could be provided. The officers fared well on tinned turkey and tinned ham. After dinner the happy thought occurred to Major Edwards that they ought to drink the health of General Clements and their old friends No. 8 Battery R.F.A., and to send them a note saying they were doing so. General Clements sent back a note as follows: "General Clements thanks the Worcesters for their kindness and hopes to have them with him the next tight corner he is in."
Major Chance, O.C. 8th Battery, R.F.A., replied: "Good old Worcesters. If they were all like you we would now be drinking your health in London."
Christmas 1914 (France)
Warning of the move reached the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire at Bailleul in the afternoon of December 22nd. At midnight the Battalion embussed, and was carried southward through the night by Hazebrouck and Bethune to Zelobes. Thence the Battalion marched to billets, at Lacouture. There they were in support to the Givenchy position. Much firing was in progress, but actually the heavy fighting had died down and the Battalion was not brought into action.
At Neuve Chapelle the front of the 8th Division had been readjusted and on December 19th the 1st Battalion Worcestershire had taken over new trenches, to the left of those previously held. Those trenches were better sited and more habitable than the former line and the losses decreased. The first tour in the new line ended on December 22nd , when the Battalion marched back to billets at La Gorgue.
On Christmas Eve 1914, the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire moved forward from their billets at Locre into the trenches. By 10.30 p.m. they had taken over the line facing the Spanbroek Mill and had settled in for the night.
Christmas Day 1914 broke fine but misty over a countryside sheeted white with snow. Dawn found the 3rd Battalion in the front trenches beneath the Messines Ridge. Casual sniping continued as usual throughout the day.
Further south the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire were not able to achieve much festivity in their ruined billets at Lacouture. The 1st Battalion Worcestershire, further back from the Line at La Gorgue were better placed. Early in the day all ranks were cheered by a visit from their Divisional Commander, Major-General Sir Francis Davies, who brought the Battalion warm messages from his folk at Pershore. Thanks to the generosity of friends at home all ranks enjoyed a good Christmas dinner. " We drank champagne out of tin mugs " recorded a subaltern, " and shut our eyes and tried to imagine "
That evening the 1st Battalion again moved forward into the trenches. The march down to the line was much the same as on any previous occasion, save that all ranks were more heavily weighted with good Christmas fare. But as the platoons neared the danger area they experienced a strange sensation. All along the line the illuminating flares were going up as usual, for neither side could afford to relax vigilance; but there was no firing ; and the silence seemed unreal. One soldier wrote afterwards that it was "like a dream." The influence of the day had caused by mutual consent a sort of truce. There had been a definite cessation of hostilities; even an exchange of greetings between the trench lines. But by the time that the 1st Worcestershire neared the line a stop had been put to those activities on the front of the 8th Division, and the relief took place without incident. Not till midnight did the unofficial truce come to an end. Then after a few moments of pause a single rifle shot broke the silence, and desultory firing was resumed all along the line.
The two days after Christmas were miserable in the extreme, with bitter sleet and frost. The Indian troops suffered severely, and it was decided to relieve them from the Line. On December 27th the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire moved forward from Lacouture and relieved the 2/39th Garhwal Rifles in trenches just south of Port Arthur,' within a mile of the position of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire.
The condition of the trenches which the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire had now to hold was almost beyond description. Along the whole line the trenches were flooded and the men waded, often knee-deep and sometimes waist-deep, in freezing water and slime. The fighting of the previous fortnight had left the ground littered with unburied dead and had shattered the defences. With the utmost difficulty, and under continuous fire, officers and men laboured to effect improvements. It was most difficult to bring material for revetting the trenches up to the front line.. Even sandbags were difficult to obtain, tools were scarce, and the overburdened ration parties found it almost impossible to make their way up the flooded communication trenches. For six days the 2nd Battalion held the line. The opposing enemy, emboldened by their recent success, kept up a continuous fire, and the German artillery bombarded all houses near the line. On December 29th Battalion Headquarters were moved into the cellar of a shattered cottage near the line but next day another move had to be made, back into a small farm near Richebourg. On December 30th the Commanding Officer, Major Hankey, was wounded, and Major G. W. St. G. Grogan took over command.
Christmas 1914 (France) - 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
Christmas morn found the Flanders countryside sheeted with white snow, against which the willows by the ditches and the tall poplars along the road showed black and bare through a dim mist. The 1st battalion had been out of the line for two days and were well rested—those of them, that is, who were left; for even if actual casualties in the Battalion had not been as heavy as in other units further north at Ypres, frost-bite and "trench-foot" had taken a heavy toll. In my one platoon only 13 were still remaining out of the 48 who had marched out from Hursley Camp two months before. The other 35 had all succumbed in one way or another, and their places had been taken by reinforcements from the "Special Reserve" — good fellows, willing enough, but not real old soldiers like those who had gone before.
The 1st Battalion men were a rough-looking lot as they hung around the cottage doors that morning, for in that bitter weather they wore any form of warm clothing they fancied. Many were wearing the goatskin fur waistcoats recently issued to all ranks; also general permission had been given not to shave and very many, both officers and men, were sporting strong beards. One of the company commanders, Captain "Jack" Arden, had grown a smart dark "torpedo" beard trimmed like a sailor's, and one of his subalterns (who later was to win every known fighting decoration) had a fierce black beard which would have done no discredit to an Arab Sheik.
The morning was spent by the men visiting their friends in other companies. During that morning all ranks were cheered by a visit from the Divisional Commander, Major-General (later General Sir Francis) Davies, who, wrapped in a new fur coat, visited each company, wishing the men all good luck and bringing greetings from friends at Embley and Pershore. His A.D.C., a thin dark Cavalryman with one sleeve empty and a haggard pale face, made a striking contrast, in his immaculate kit and field boots, compared to the Worcester lads with their ruddy cheeks and unpolished accoutrements. Then came Christmas dinner—the best that could be provided locally, helped out by hampers from friends at home. Afterwards the men rested, for they knew they should need all the rest they could get — they were going up the Line that night.
The men of the 1st Worcesters got dressed and fell in about dusk—an odd contrast to a peace-time parade; for by that time two months of trench-warfare had taught them to take all they might need with them. Those were the early days, when the trenches were only a single line, with no good communication-trenches behind, up which supplies could easily be brought. So when they paraded that evening each man had his pack and haversack bulging with food and oddments of every kind from cigarettes to socks and tallow, but mostly with good Christmas fare sent out by kind folks at home. All were wearing greatcoats, with fur waistcoats and "woollies" beneath. So heavy were they with it all that it was hard work even to march—and running would have been impossible.
When the men were fallen in and told off, the Company Commanders read a message from Headquarters. It seemed that there had been an unofficial truce along the front that day. In fact during the morning some regiments had had a meeting with the Germans opposite and had exchanged souvenirs, etc. This showed a good sporting spirit on both sides, but there was distinct danger in it—for if the enemy were allowed to walk about at will, they might quite easily discover how thin and flimsy was our defensive line, with disastrous results next day; so that fraternizing had been stopped. Nevertheless by tacit agreement neither side was firing; and the men of the Worcesters were not to fire until the enemy did so—or till the day ended.
After this communication and the usual inspection of arms the men of the 1st Battalion set off — "marched off" would sound too military to describe their much-encumbered progress. The battalion had been billetted at a village called La Gorgue, about six miles behind the lines. Their way lay first along some winding country lanes and then down an absolutely straight main road—the road from Estaires to Neuve Chapelle; the latter village was in the enemy's hands.
That main road was generally shelled by day and sometimes by night; but as the men turned on to it that evening they noticed a thing, which struck them as strange. All along the front line which they were approaching lights were going up — "Verey" lights or other forms of flare—as happened every night; but they could hear no firing. As a rule it was seldom that a light went up without somebody nearby "loosing off," even if there was no clear target to be seen, and often one such shot would be followed by a burst of firing; but this night no one was firing. The rockets went streaking upwards, curved over and broke into showers of drifting stars, dimly lighting the countryside, but no sound of firing followed—and the silence sounded uncanny, almost unreal.
The position of the "Rouge Croix" cross roads
About half-a-mile behind the Line was a cross-roads known as "Rouge Croix" from a big crucifix of red wood which stood at the corner—on the right hand as one went towards the trenches. Several shells had struck near it, the top canopy had been shot away, and the whole crucifix was tilting a bit, but it still stood and will be remembered by many who passed it then and afterwards. That cross roads had become the recognised place at which troops going up to the Line got into single file for the final approach to the trenches. There the successive platoons used to get their distance-50 yards between the last man of one platoon and the first of the next. But this night the men stood and halted at this cross-roads, watching the platoon in front string out into single file and then disappear into the darkness in front, and being struck by the oddity of the silence in front in spite of the dazzling flares.
A platoon halted at the cross-roads of Rouge Croix
(from a drawing by Gilbert Holiday)
One Officer recalls: "At last we had got our proper distance, and moved on, opening out into single file, first along the road, then in the ditch at its side, then through a small orchard along a track deep in mud and finally into the shallow ditch which was then the best we had for a communication trench. With many checks and delays we made our way up into the trenches proper and took over from the battalion we were relieving—the 2nd Northamptonshire — hearing in hurried whispers of their meeting with the opposing enemy that morning. By about 10.0 p.m. the handing-over was all completed and the Northamptonshire platoons had left on their way back. We settled down into the trenches, examining the alterations since we had been in those trenches, four days beforehand. Then we turned to enjoying the extra Christmas fare we had carried in, while one man in each fire bay kept watch, and the Verey lights went up at intervals to illuminate the silent scene in front."
"About 11.0 p.m. we heard singing from the German trenches two hundred yards away—apparently hymns or Christmas carols—with a few shouts which might have been meant for us but which we failed to make out. Presently they grew silent. We wondered if they would play any trick, such as a sudden attack actually at midnight, and we kept more careful watch than ever.
The minutes crept on. Midnight came at last, the silence still continued. Then about ten minutes past twelve far away we heard a shot—then another nearer—then a short burst of firing from the " Port Arthur " trenches away to our right; a spent bull et whined overhead ; a machine-gun somewhere to the left broke out, sounding like a stick drawn along railings ; and as a Verey light nearby lit up "No man's Land" in front, a sentry in the next fire-bay fired twice."
The Christmas truce was over.
Christmas 1915 (France) - 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
This day was notable in the Battalion's history, for it marked the Battalion's passing from the Expeditionary Force (2nd Division) to the New Army (33rd Division). It also marked the first real period of rest behind the lines since the War began fifteen months previously. The Battalion, which had suffered so severely during and after the battle of Loos, was now compact, hard and in fine fettle. Commanded by Lieut.-Colonel G. C. Lambton and with C. H. Ralston as Adjutant, they were a closely-knit band of brothers.
A soldier (C. H. Pigg) of the battalion recalls: "In war a soldier sees little outside his own Platoon and Company, and my lot lay with "C" Captain W. Ferguson was in command. He had been a planter in Ceylon, and, as he had gone at once to South Africa to serve in the ranks in that war, so now he had come without hesitation, when over fifty years of age, to serve again in the Great War. Thick set, sturdy and cheery he was loved by all who served him. His subalterns at this time were C. A. N. Fox, T. N. Wilmot, A. W. E. Ainstie, E. A. D. Durlacher; all of whom won distinction for the Regiment, and all with their commander, fell in its service."
"Sunday, December 19th, was a beautiful morning with bright sunshine and no Parade, except a Church Parade, attended by "A" and "C" Companies. This took place at noon in an L-shaped barn full of shell-holes. "A" was in the top half of the L, and "C" in the bottom, with the Colonel and Padre in between, and, as "C" was quicker off the mark in the singing than "A," the effect was odd. Aeroplanes overhead and guns hard at it all round provided further diversion."
Lieut.-Col. G. C. Lambton
"On Monday, December 20th, we left the 2nd Division. For two miles from our billets the 2nd Divisional Band led us as far as the area of the 33rd Division. At our head rode the Colonel with Captain Ferguson, accompanied by Drummer King, a veteran whom many will remember, blowing his fife. In our new area we were met by the Divisional Commander and his Staff, with three bands, pipes, bugle and brass. The new troops whom we were to join turned out and lined the roads and cheered us, and many a man's thoughts turned to his comrades who could no more hear those cheers. It was a proud day for the Regiment."
"We were billeted very comfortably at Norrent Fontes, four miles east of Aire, and well out of sound of gunfire. The next few days before Christmas were wet, and we did little beyond cleaning our persons and kit, and resting and making ready for the great day."
"Christmas Day dawned fresh and showery. We had a Church Parade at 11.0 in a large barn, and then followed "Dinners" which were a magnificent success. We had scoured the countryside for food and drink, and it is safe to say that after mid-day no one went hungry or thirsty. The Sergeants of "C" Company called on the Company Mess after lunch—all very cheery—and drank with us; and a little later the four Company Sergeant-Majors came round and sang "Good King Wenceslas" to us with a good tune but not many words.
By tea time everyone was happy, and the Company Guard was neither "present" nor "correct." But how the troops had earned it! In the evening all the officers dined together in the School. The 5th Battalion had sent us a dozen of champagne, and this we had supplemented. A terrific evening ended in a dance. And so to bed.
On Sunday, December 26th, we had a great game of Inter-Company Football; and on the 27th we again made ready for battle."
Christmas 1916 (France) - 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
During December 1916, the 1st Battalion was enjoying a period of rest "out of the line," at the Village of Aumont, in the back areas of the Somme.
Men who were there will remember the little cottage on the right-hand side of the Village, by the well (where they tried to throw " Pompey" in), wherein dwelt "Maggie and Company" ?
This cottage, containing 3 rooms, was partly furnished but not inhabited, and on a pond in front of the building were 3 ducks. It was secured from the owner for the payment of 10 francs per week (paid by the temporary tenants), and thus became a recognised billet.
As Christmas approached it was mooted that in addition to the ample fare provided by the Battalion, the 3 ducks should go the way of all flesh, and appear "properly dressed" on the festive occasion. To this end they were fed daily at all hours, whether they were hungry or not, but with all our attention it did not make them tender, and I was a tooth short at the end of the meal. In addition to the ducks it was of course necessary to procure from a nearby town a sufficient supply of liquid and other refreshment, although S.R.D. was not entirely at a discount, and was quite good with a little "Ideal Milk" added.
Very little difficulty was experienced in obtaining the necessary refills, but many anxious moments were, however, spent until the return to his cheerful fireside of the Bearer of these "Glad Tidings."
For Christmas Day the interior of the living room was made more beautiful by draping U.S. Blankets round the walls, on which were pasted in adhesive plaster many beautiful and appropriate texts, e.g., the usual Christmas Greetings: "God bless our dear Quartermaster"; "Abandon hope all ye who enter herein," etc. etc.
Christmas morning was quite bright and clear, although this did not equally apply to the "heads" of the Establishment. Dinner was cooked by the owner's wife, who, with her husband, were guests for the evening. It was all very enjoyable, starting with the Royal Toast, and I have a faint recollection that the last one was "Allemand no Bon," kindly given by Monsieur.
Men visited various billets of the Battalion during the remainder of the evening, and finally got to bed in the early hours of the next morning.
During the Great War the 1st Battalion spent their Christmas Days as follows.
1914 - In the Trenches on the La Bassee Road, near Pont Logy. 1915 In Reserve billets at the Rue Marle, Armentieres.
1916 - Out of the line in rest Billets Aumont (Somme).
1917 - In front of Weiltje (Ypres), preparatory to going in the line on Boxing Day.
1918 - The Village of Mesline L'Eveque by Mons, where men for demobilization were dealt with.
Christmas 1916 (France) - 2/8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
Towards the end of December 1916, the Battalion was occupying old French huts in Martinsart Wood in the Ancre Valley, supplying working parties for the forward areas. It was at first thought that no working parties would have to be furnished on Christmas Day, but finally two Companies had to turn out. The two Companies
remaining had their Christmas dinner at mid-day, the ordinary rations being supplemented by Christmas puddings sent out from England. An officer had scoured the country for miles around to try and get some beer for the Battalion. He was only able to get hold of one barrel, which was very little to go round. A Sergeant was put in charge of the barrel and it was very carefully served out to the first two Companies who sat down to dinner in a large hut at mid-day. The barrel was frequently tested to ascertain how much was left in. When it was thought the halfway line had been reached the remainder was to be kept for the other two Companies. The Commanding Officer of one Company was not satisfied with this way of guessing the contents of the barrel, so to prove whether the first two Companies had had their fair share the Pioneer Sergeant measured the top of the barrel and bored a hole in the centre of it. Not a drop came out, which proved that the first two had had their fair (!) share. The two Companies who had been furnishing working parties sat down to their dinner in the evening and had the rest of the beer.
Christmas 1917 (Italy) - 1/8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
The 1/8th Battalion made a short trek north to a place called Grosso. Here they halted for quite a long time and began to make preparations for Christmas. They bought admirable wine, fine poultry (with which the country swarmed), and equally fine pigs. One of the latter was a very sporting animal and gave the Master Cook a capital run of over two miles across brooks, small rivers, hedges, bullfinches and a very difficult line of country; but at last Sergeant Ashworth pulled down his quarry in the open and slew it with his trusty steel.
The men even took a G.S. wagon to Vicenza, a long, slow journey in deep snow, and did Christmas shopping there. Also a great exploit was there accomplished by certain sergeants—but that is another story.
So as the men were all ready for Christmas they got orders to move on the 23rd December. The weather naturally moved in sympathy and the long frost broke in torrents of rain. They made a long march to a place whose name sounded like Bassandvino, which seemed promising, but it turned out to be Bressanvido, not at all the same thing in any respect. Here the men took over the worst billets they ever had in France, Flanders or Italy, and stayed four weeks in them.
Of course the Battalion had had to leave some of their Christmas fare behind, and moving at short notice had been unable to get in most of the poultry they had contracted to buy. The wine was sold to the Air Force men, as the Battalion had no transport to bring it along. The men had just one day in which to make new preparations, and thanks to their interpreter they did it. Unluckily the French had passed this way and taken nearly all the poultry, leaving only enough for breeding; so the price of a turkey or goose had risen from 4s. 6d. or 5s. 6d. at the last place to 15s. or 16s. here.
Christmas was celebrated in better style than in 1915 or 1916, and the men had on the whole a jovial time, in spite of our bad lodgings. As soon as the move was over the frost returned and brought snow. This lasted nearly all the time the Battalion was there, and the men trained at fighting in this close country and leaping brooks of which it is full. There was a double incentive to jump far, for wet clothes could only be dried by sleeping in them.
The mens billets were open-fronted barns, half-full of crops—airy and wholesome no doubt, but after five o'clock, when darkness fell, rather chilly, and lights could not be allowed because of the loose hay. This did not matter much as there was no candles and none could be bought anyway. The issue of candles (the only illuminant in the field) is strictly logical. When the nights are long the A.S.C. want them, especially about Christmas when they are making festival, and the issue to an Infantry Company averages three or four a day. Here it fell to two in six days.
So the men crowded into the cowsheds for warmth, and those who had a candle and money played cards and used language, while those who had not—did not play cards.
(An extract from the War Story of the 1/8th Battalion by R.Q.M.S. E. C. Corbett, M.M.)
Christmas 1943 (India) - 7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
During December 1943 the 7th Battalion were involved in jungle training at Khanapur and Benoli, and on Christmas 1943 the battalion spent their time in camp on the maidan at Belgaum. Below is the actual copy of the Christmas menu which has been signed by men of 'C' Company and photos of the men enjoying their Christmas celebrations.
'C' Company after Christmas Dinner
C.O. visits 'C' Company Mess
Christmas Day Menu (1943)
Christmas 1944 (Belgium) - 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
Private Thomas Scully recalls being billeted at the local monastery in Bilzen (Belgium) with the monks, on Chirstmas Day and snow on the ground. His officer, Captain Percy Huxter was also there. However, Major Bryan Elder had gone back to England on 14 days leave and Captain Peter Hall took over command of ‘D’ Company as temporary Major.
1st Battalion men with 2 Monks at Bilzen monastery
(seated is Pte. Thomas Scully, behind with pipe in mouth is the battalion cook and to his right is the batman of Lt. Pullens)
Although there was an air of tenseness amongst the men not knowing what was ahead, excitement was also in the air with the approach of Christmas. On the 23rd December 1944 the men were informed that Christmas Day would be celebrated with a special dinner with all the trimmings. On the 24th the notice to move was lifted to three hours by day and one hour by night, a welcome relief. All things considered, Christmas 1944 would be remembered as a pleasant interlude in the grim period of winter war.
The Lieut. J. E. Benney (Quartermaster) and his staff between them managed to produce an abundance of tinned turkey, pork, vegetables, Christmas pudding and English beer, not to mention such trimmings as mince pies, fruit, nuts, chocolate, cake, cigars (captured stock intended for the Wehrmacht) and some dubious red wine ‘Chateau Naafi’!!
Corporal William Gould, Signals Company, recalls; “Nuns who were in charge of the local school had prepared a tremendous cauldron of rich vegetable soup as a special treat for their charges and quite a few of the Worcesters sampled it and declared it to be excellent”.
Everyone was warned against the wood alcohol being purveyed by the local café proprietors under the libellous label of “brandy” but, alas, there were a few who disregarded this and literally fell by the wayside, spending Christmas in the Guard Room as a result.
That night all the officers sat down to dinner together for the first time since Normandy days, and the N.C.O.s and men whose awards had been published at lunchtime were invited to the Officers' Mess for a drink and were congratulated by Brigadier Essame who joined the Battalion for dinner.
A very adequate meal was followed by a roisterous, though in some cases inarticulate, sing-song round the piano, and everyone went to bed at midnight fervently hoping that if any enemy paratroops were dropped it would not be in the Worcestershires Battalion's area.
One light-hearted moment was when ‘Tanky’ Taylor (‘B’ Company), who may have had a drink or two, was on guard duty and as the C.O. approached he challenged him for the password but the C.O. could not remember it and simply said I am your Commanding Officer. ‘Tanky’ still refused to let him pass much to the annoyance of the C.O. and the officer of the guard had to be called out to sort out the situation!!
On Boxing Day the Worcestershires went out to do a little training, more as a liver-shaking measure than anything else, and to enjoy the frosty country air and the brilliant winter sunshine. Football was played each afternoon, against the 5th DCLI and 7th Somerset L.I. as well as some of the local villagers.
Group of 1st Battalion Worcestershire men at Bilzen
(Pte. Thomas Scully second from left)
Christmas 1944 (Burma) - 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
The 2nd Battalion were now in the 64th Infantry Brigade which was part of the 19th Indian Division. In December 1944 the enemy in front of 64th Brigade appeared to be the 51st Regiment (Japanese), with responsibility for the whole area between the Myitkyina railway and the Irrawaddy, with the 31st Japanese Division in reserve round Shwebo. The enemy were obviously retreating faster than ever, and with 2nd Worcestershire still in the lead the Brigade reached Padonma on 22nd December 1944. Information was then received that the Japs were holding some hills west of a village, Thitseingon, about three and a half miles to the south-west on a road running east and west from Kawlin to Tawma. Elaborate plans were accordingly made for the attack on 23rd December after a night approach, when just in time information was received that the supposed enemy were our own 62 Brigade; while similarly 2nd Worcestershire had also been mistaken for the Japanese, and the guns of 115 Field Regiment, R.A., were at one moment ready to greet our men in their enthusiasm to close with an elusive enemy! Once again the local guide proved ineffective and lost his way, luckily, through the particular circumstances, without prejudice to any final issue. As no rest was anticipated on Christmas Day, 24th December was observed as a day of rest and Church services were held.
Christmas Day of 1944 proved a curious and memorable experience. The 2nd Battalion once again led the column with Brigade Headquarters and 5/10 Baluch following behind. It was intended to reach Taungbon. A detachment of the Battalion had previously been dispatched to escort 25 Mountain Battery across country from Kyaukpyintha, and the detachment and Battery were due to join the column. The detachment with its charge duly joined its position at about 1100 hours at Kokkogon. In the meanwhile the Battalion in the lead had taken the wrong track south of Kokkogon, and a liaison officer sent forward from Brigade Headquarters discovered that the column was being led confidently only by the Battalion mules! Having discovered the mistake they retraced their steps, but were unable to make Taungbon by the evening. Having established contact with Brigade through an officer sent for the purpose, the Battalion halted for the night by a small stream on the main track a few miles to the north of the Brigade, where, having covered many miles by day, all ranks slept soundly. The march was continued on 26th December, the Battalion catching up in rear of the column and reaching Letpanda in the evening. On 27th December a further advance brought the column to the outskirts of Baw, where the Baluch in the lead ran into a typical Japanese ambush. By the time Baw was cleared the Battalion had arrived and a supply drop had been started. The advance continued on 28th December, the Baluch encountering minor opposition. That evening the Baluch and Brigade Headquarters settled into Sabenatha, the Gurkhas moving on to Ngapyawdaing and the Battalion reaching Hlwezeik. There they remained for two days, and on 31st December 1944 they moved on to relieve the Baluch in Sabenatha, the latter having been sent off to co-operate in the drive south that 62 Brigade were exploiting away to the west.
New Year's Day passed quietly at Sabenatha, and on 2nd January the Battalion with Brigade Headquarters moved on to Myemun. On 3rd January 1945 reconnaissances in force were ordered in the area round Thabeikkyin, a steamer station on the Irrawaddy some eighteen miles to the north-east of Kongyi. Information was needed about suitable crossings, conditions of tracks and sites for light aircraft landing strips. Accordingly "A" and "C" Companies were dispatched, thus having the distinction of being the first troops in Fourteenth Army to view the Irrawaddy. A large rice dump was discovered and its guard were successfully dealt with, the documents taken including an excellent set of photographs of Nipponese "pin-up" girls! On 5th January two companies from the 2nd Welch Regiment relieved "A" and "C" Companies, which were ordered to rejoin the Battalion at Kongyi, whither it had moved in the meanwhile.
Christmas 1944 (Burma) - 7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment
CQMS Fred Weedman as 'C' Company Quarter Master Sergeant had many varied responsibilities. His “office” was a metal box holding a typewriter, the records and his “unofficial” camera. The office would then be set up where ever the Company stopped. Much of his job was helping the Company Commander and the Company Sergeant Major to maintain moral and discipline. But it was also to keep a check on all the weapons, clothing and ammunition, whilst being constantly on the move. The weather was hot and steamy and equipment deteriorated rapidly.
CQMS Fred Weedman in the jungle "company office"
An important part of his duties were to ensure that the food prepared for the men was appetizing, clean and well-cooked. Supplies were dropped to us by parachute by the RAF. On special occasions, such as Christmas, appropriate menus had to be got ready. Below is an example of the menu prepared for Christmas Day 1944.
In 1944 Christmas for the 7th Worcestershire Battalion was held at Kalemyo on the 18th December that year. General Slim had planned for the Battalion to attack Shebo in the Kabow valley on Christmas Day, before pushing them back to Mandelay. The Japanese would think the British would be celebrating Christmas and so it was hoped to take them by surprise.
It was thanks to the R.A.F. supply dropping teams that the men were able to enjoy excellent traditional Christmas fare on this early occasion. The battalion was fortunate that nearly all the canisters of food that were parachuted down to them from the Dakotas, landed safely in the target area. Only one or two were blown by the wind and landed in enemy territory, much to everyone's annoyance.
7th Worcestershire Regiment
REVEILLE - 'Gunfire tea' - distributed by Sergeants and Officers.
BREAKFAST - Porridge (English and Scottish seasoning)
Bacon and scrambled eggs - Beans
Fried bread - Jam - Tea
DINNER - Roast Meat and Chicken
Roast Potatoes - Mashed Potatoes - Cabbage and Cauliflower - Sausage stuffing
Christmas Pudding - Rum Sauce
Rum Punch - Gin Cordial
Plain Cordial - Coffee
Cigars - Cigarettes - Sweets
TEA - Ham and Meat sandwich - Pickles
Fruit and custard - Tea
SUPPER - Sandwich - Coffee
“A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL”