Everybody I know has heard about Cadbury’s Chocolates – but this letter entry piqued my interest.
I found this on www.whitefeatherdiaries.org.uk. The white feather diaries is a social media storytelling project marking the centenary of World War I. It offers an insight into overlooked aspects of war: resistance to killing and the relief of suffering. This diary entry I stumbled across was eloquently penned by Laurence Cadbury.
Laurence was a Quaker engineer from Birmingham. As the son of George Cadbury, then head of the famous chocolate firm, he was immersed in the world of Quakerism. He was also at home in upper class society as a result of his family’s wealth and his private education.
Laurence’s training as an engineer combined skill with personal enthusiasm. He was fascinated by cars — at a time when most people in Britain had never ridden in one. He was particularly attached to his own car, which he named “the Beetle”. War came when Laurence was 25.
Laurence wrote to his parents from a Friends Ambulance Unit station in France on Boxing Day 1914, picking up themes that had been cut short in his last letter. Here’s an abridged version of his letter.
FRIDAY 29 AUGUST 1914>
Dear Father and Mother,
Thanks very much for your letters and for the boxes which arrived safely in time for Christmas. We had a very good time here and I hope you had the same. The day was absolutely clear and frosty – the regular Christmas card specimen.
Luckily for us there was very little to be done on Christmas Day and in the afternoon we made great preparations for our dinner. We managed to get hold of an old piano that was horribly out of tune, but which served its purpose. We had an immense quantity of plummers, mincers, preserved fruit, etc, bottled beer, whisky and port, that had been sent to various people, and had an enormous dinner. After it was disposed of, the room was cleared of tables and bottles for music – of sorts – and dancing – also of sorts. At the latter, we were assisted by some obliging refugees. For the most part the programme consisted of pathetic, touching ballads, pure Boer War waltzes, and what called itself the latest from the Halls, with the Belgian National Anthem and God Save the King frequently interposed. We only once got dangerously near Tipperary. The men all stood the strain very well and only one is still seriously indisposed.
On Christmas Eve we had mass in the college chapel at 12.00. It was quite an impressive sight. The Bishop of Nancy spoke for about ten minutes in the middle and was very eloquent and simple: “You soldiers desire above all things victory, but I would ask that all of us present this evening, even you soldiers, may desire above all things peace.” And all the soldiers stood silently in prayer while the low rumble of the guns echoed through the church.
I believe I had to stop my last letter in the middle of telling you what happened when the hare fell mid-way between the German and French trenches. A man got up from either side to claim it, and they both met and stood laughing at each other in the middle. The Frenchman then went back, brought out some tobacco for the German’s share of the hare and both shook hands and the Frenchman took it back.
On Christmas Day, all along the front here the men had a rest from 1.00 to 3.00, and where the trenches were near together they threw bits of sausage and cigarettes at one another. Where the trenches are near, they are always shouting backwards and forwards and trying to make a mutual arrangement not to shoot. A French soldier returning from the trenches near Ypres the other day told us that where he was neither side had fired at the other for ten days. They had let off the regulation amount of ammunition all right, but it had gone off in the air and not into their enemies.
I believe this sort of thing is pretty common, and is not confined to just here; it is not to be wondered at when the men can talk to one another all the time. If it was not for the fact that both sides change their men round all the time, and are constantly replacing them by new troops, they might pair off like MPs; it would be a very amusing conclusion if all the armies went on strike and refused to fight any more.
I am sorry to hear about Dingo, and hope the good dog’s leg will mend.
Your affectionate son,
The report on German and French soldiers firing into the air to miss each other is remarkable. Both sides later moved their troops around more frequently to prevent these sorts of conversations and agreements. How do you feel about the soldiers’ actions?