from ‘the War Budget’, November 4th, 1915
'The War Bells of Christmas'
by Philip Gibbs

Yuletide Appeal from the Troops

two Christmas issue magazine covers


A queer little reminder that Christmas will soon be calling to us through the mists of Flanders—with such a sad reproach in that old message, "Peace on earth, good will to men"—came to me some nights ago in Ypres. Or, rather, it was in the early dawn, when the flares on each side of the salient were pallid against a lightening sky, and the rifle fire along the trenches was dying down into solitary sniping shots, and just for a little while the guns were silent, except for an occasional boom through the hush between night and day.

As I trudged through the heaps of ruins which were once a noble town, I saw a book lying in front of me, I picked it up It was "The Cricket on the Hearth," by Charles Dickens! It was the strangest thing to find that old tale, so full of Christmas sentiment and humanity, in this stricken place. A fairy tale in the midst of the most hideous reality! I wondered what Dickens, who loved home life, and preached the gospel of peace and good-fellowship, would think of all this horror and beastliness of war—of this town of Ypres, with its destroyed homes, where each stone tells of tragedy and the evil spirit in the world. Would it have poisoned all his cheery optimism and spoilt the message in his heart?

I think not. Dickens would still have a Christmas tale to tell. Glowing words of his would bring laughter and tears into English home- again, and his pen would be quick and busy in its appeal to bring the spirit of Christmas to the trenches and the dug- outs, where there will be a great home-sickness on that day.

The Longing for a Letter from Home

Is there any Scroge about who will begrudge a Christmas present to our soldiers out here? The heart of Scrooge himself would be softened and warmed to generosity if he would come with me round our lines; and if he could as I have seen a thousand times, how always the spirits of our men yearn for any little word, any little gift, from that home life of theirs which seems a world away.

The most glorious hour of the day is when the post is brought in from the battalion headquarters.

"Any letters for me?" is a question asked from dug-out to dug-out, and in every billet under a shell-broken and in every bivouac where a few soldiers sit found a wood fire.

"Lucky beggar!" growls a "Kitchener bloke" lying on a sand-hag in a hole in the earth above which the shells go rushing to a village behind the line.

There is no letter for him to-day. and the gloom of the dug-out seems darker than before, and colder in the mist that creeps over the parapet, and more desolate the dead ground which grows barbed wire. But oh! the warmth that comes to the "Kitchener bloke" if there is a little parcel for him, after all!

Gifts that Warm the Heart

"What are you grinning about, Bert?" His pal on the other side of the sand-bag has a grievance in his voice. It is his turn to go without a post. But he knows the answer-to his question.

"A present from home, old son. Pretty useful, too. It was my kid knitted them mittens. Who'd have thought it of the young puss?"

Some stitches have been dropped, but the red wool of the mittens warms the man's heart like the glowing embers on a dank day. He whistles as he crawls down a sap to listen for the progress of a German mine. It's likely they'll blow it up to-day. ... But those mittens are pretty. So Lucy hasn't forgotten her father, though it's a year ago since he said, "I'll soon be back."

It's the one great magic which keeps up the hearts of our soldiers through all their hardships and suffering—the voice that comes cut to them from home, the spirit of the nation that remembers her sons.

Without that all the pluck would go out of them. To keep the .constant reminder of it they nail up picture postcards of familiar old places in their dug-outs, and call their communication trenches by the names of old streets, and stick a sprig of heather or a bunch of withered flowers in the old ratters of the barn in which they sleep, and scratch a girl's name, on a piece of chalk above the tire-step, and cram a batch of letters in their breast pockets beneath their bandoliers.

When Christmas Comes

So when Christmas comes every man in the Army, from the base to the fighting lines, will yearn for remembrance, not only, from those who are close in kinship to him, but from the old country itself, for whose honour and safety he has given up up, with other sacrifices.

He is not given to the expression of his sentiment. He makes grim jokes about death. He jeers sometimes with Cockney irony, or Scottish dryness, or Irish wit at the whole queer game of life, with its false heroics and sham ideals. Oh! a cynical chap the British soldier when you hear him over a frying-pan in the dug-out! Do you believe that? He is just a child in his heart, and on Christmas day he will be .as eager to see what the post brings as when, years ago, he sat up in bed and stretched out a trembling hand to a bulgy stocking Christmas! The bells will be ringing across the fields. (What a beastly row that machine gun is making!) Has the plum pudding been a success to-day? (It's a pity the sergeant died before the post came in.) The old people will be alone with the little ones. (How thick the fog is over the parapet!) Christmas —in a dug-out—with cracker- that blow men to death—in the loneliness of Flanders, that puts an icy grip upon the heart unless there is an inner flame with a toady warmth.

The Duty of Those at Home

It is for the people at home to keep that flame burning, and for this next Christmas in the trenches to provide the fuel that shall glow with a bright and jolly fire from one end of our line to the other, so that there shall be laughter in the dug-outs, and shouts of glee in broken barns, and in the eyes of the thoughtful soldier who is sensitive to the tragedy of war a brighter light because in spite of all this agony, he sees that the Empire is grateful to her sons and that the trenches are filled with gifts from the full heart of the race.

So will you not give live shilling- or so to the "Daily Chronicle" fund which is inspired by the spirit of Charles Dickens, whose tale I found in Ypres—as a reminder from the dead that the spirit of Christmas still lives though the world is at war.

Each gift parcel to the soldiers will contain: — Half a pound of B.D.V. tobacco, 2lbs. of Mackintosh's plum pudding, 100 Crayol cigarettes, box of chocolate.

Five shillings will pay for one of these parcels, the retail of which would be 11s. 6d., the generosity and patriotism of manufacturers enabling the distribution to be made at half the retail price.

The entire cost of administering the fund will he borne by the "Daily Chronicle."

Fill in the coupon on page 3 of cover while the appeal is fresh in your mind.


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