Seeking festive fare amid utter desolation
At this time, New Zealand families are planning how they will spend Christmas Day 2017, where they will be and what they will eat.
Will the main course be pomegranate-glazed duck breast or roast brined turkey with gravy and cranberry relish?
Perhaps the chef will prefer an exotic dish such as caramelised Thai pork on pineapple or lean more towards the traditional roast lamb with fresh mint topping, sticky roasted onions, gravy and crispy potatoes.
As the chosen dish roasts in the oven, the floor will still be strewn with the torn wrappings from opened presents and the children will be outside or in another room playing with them.
Chances are the sun will be shining and, if those gathered are not cheery and high-spirited, there is wine or beer in the glass to warm their demeanour.
A century ago, others were celebrating Christmas, too. However, their circumstances were less idyllic.
The New Zealand armed forces in the field, in a foreign place, could only reflect with nostalgia on how those Christmases back home had been.
It might have been Christmas Day but, for them, it was war as usual, as Captain Malcolm Ross reports in the New Zealand Times.
‘‘We woke before dawn, had an early breakfast, and made for the firing line . . .
‘‘As we walked along the communication trench listening to the squish! squish! of the duckboards under our feet, memories of our last Christmas came to mind . . .
‘‘It was not strange, perhaps, in those days we let our minds run a good deal on food. The Peninsula was not exactly Voisin’s nor a Hotel de Ritz.
‘‘In the field kitchen we found the cooks busy, and rows of great pots bubbling on the wood fires of the sand-bagged cook houses. There were plum puddings and other good things in the pots.
‘‘We met few men in the communication trench. On to the firing line we went.
‘‘It was a scene of dreary desolation. Everywhere mud and water, and billows of bulging sand bags...
‘‘But if our lines were desolate and dreary, what of the German lines?
‘‘They were absolutely battered to bits . . . Only last night our patrols had been out – right into the enemy trenches and found them uninhabited and uninhabitable . . .
‘‘Even as we walked the line our shells were screaming against the wind overhead to land behind the lines in front and spoilt the Christmas of the Boche. We were sending him over a few samples of our ‘plum puddings’ . . .
‘‘At the Divisional Rest Station . . . we found a menu that tempted us to stay – Mutton Broth
Braised Steak and Potatoes. Roast Lamb and Green Peas. Cold Ham.
Plum Pudding and Brandy Sauce. Jelly and Custard. Christmas Pies.
‘‘To each gathering the Corps Commander said a few cheerful words, telling the men that next spring if they fought as well as they did on Gallipoli and on the Somme they would help in no small measure in the winning of the war, and that by next Christmas they would be in New Zealand or on the way there. At this there was cheering.’’
A different time. A different Christmas. A Christmas less merry.