Seek­ing fes­tive fare amid ut­ter des­o­la­tion

The Press - - World -

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.

Cof­fee.

‘‘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.

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