‘Christmas has come and we are no longer fighting. God has blessed your efforts’
AT long last, the war had come to an end that November with the signing of the armistice. Four bloody years of conflict – four “feverish, devastating years”, in the later words of Scottish historian William Ferguson – had left millions dead and three empires broken in defeat.
Not that conflict had ended entirely. In his introduction to the Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War, Professor Hew Strachan writes that the war “did not end as neatly as the commemorative events clustered around the anniversary of the armistice”.
Conflict persisted across central and eastern Europe; civil wars divided Russia and Poland ...” Revolutionary unrest had also been stirred in some parts of Germany.
On Christmas Day, the Glasgow Herald wrote with feeling that it was “the happiest Christmas Western Europe has known since the lurid cloudburst of August 1914”.
Even so, it was hard to think of the festive season in “full Christmas terms, so to speak,” the leading article added, “for the European Continent is shaking with revolutionary fires, machine-guns are still making targets of targets of human bodies [machine-guns and tear-gas had been deployed in central Berlin on Christmas Eve], and the gaunt spectre of famine is claiming myriad of victims in desolated countries”.
But that December no one could blame people for celebrating a Christmas and New Year in peace. In Scotland, the Herald observed, Christmas Day, a Wednesday, was celebrated “with a measure of festivity approaching pre-war times”.
In London, the King and Queen, who attended a morning service at Westminster Abbey, issued a message that was relayed to hospitals where the disabled, sick and wounded from the war were being treated. “Another Christmas has come round,” it began, “and we are no longer fighting. God has blessed your efforts… To the disabled, sick and wounded, we send a special greeting, praying that with returning health you may be comforted and cheered by the vision of those good days of peace for which you have sacrificed so much.”
Glasgow Royal Infirmary’s chairman, James Macfarlane, replied that the message had been read to the sick and wounded sailors and soldiers there – “all of whom, I am glad to say, are doing well”.
In Glasgow, private businesses, government offices and most shops were closed.
In the evening, great numbers of people strolled along the main streets, although the “great mass of the population” – those who worked in the
shipyards and other industries – would have to wait until the Saturday for their holiday season to begin.
Several organisations went to considerable lengths to entertain various groups, from some 1,200 children of soldiers who had died during the war to Belgian refugees who were living in the city and wounded soldiers recovering in hospital.
Special performances were put on in Glasgow’s theatres, music halls and cinemas, all enjoyed by what the Herald termed “holidaymakers”. Among the attractions: a panto, Handy Andy, at the Princess’s Theatre; Jack and the Beanstalk at the Alhambra; a “Grand Amateur Carnival” at the Coliseum (“£100 in prizes”); Little Red Riding Hood at the Theatre Royal; ragtime duettists Manny and Roberts,
from Broadway, at the Empire; a new musical play, Going Up, Going Up, at the King’s.
There was, as it turns out, a more unusual attraction on offer. A number of surrendered German submarines were on display at the Broomielaw and Kingston Dock. So great was the press of people eager to inspect them that many had to be turned away.
In Edinburgh, churches staged well-attended Christmas services; at the Scottish General Military Hospital, Craigleith, where there were 800 patients, including 400 repatriated prisoners of war, the wards were gaily decorated and each patient received a parcel containing tobacco, chocolate and other items.
In Greenock, workers at the torpedo factory enjoyed a day off. In Alloa, gifts