“Be home for Christmas!”: 1914


A postcard sent by King George and Queen Mary to British servicemen overseas in 1914.

A postcard sent by King George and Queen Mary to British servicemen overseas in 1914.

I have watched, here and there, the leave-takings. When a regiment goes to the Front there are no relatives to see them off; secrecy, dense and unfathomable, shrouds the whole military game as played now in Great Britain; the leavetaking is done at home. But there are exceptions now and then. I sailed from Folkestone, en route to Brussels, in the early days of the war. I found aboard a Red Cross detachment, a group of British officers, and an army chaplain or so; their women, fine, tall Barbarians of charm and breeding, had managed by favour to go down to the boat with them. I should not describe the good-bye embraces of these women as cold, there was a suggestion of fire underneath; but at least they seemed casual. You knew that, once alone, they would cry their eyes out, but not there, where the situation called for a stiff upper lip. The officers, the Red Cross Corps and the chaplains waved at their women until we rounded the Folkestone pier head. Then, just for a second, one of the chaplains opened his mind to me.

“It’s taking your life into your hands, isn’t it ?” he said. “And I suppose they know it!”

I sat in a cafe in Havre, when that city was an English base, beside an English officer and his mother. I confess that I eavesdropped shamefully. She had some “pull,” I suspect; someone, for sake of her mother heart, had rent the fog of war long enough to let her know that her boy would be a few days at Havre. They were to part there, at the cafe; he must go back at six o’clock to quarters, and in the morning to the Front. They chatted of the dog and the automobile and the neighbours; he got out a war map and tried to explain the situation. I doubt if she took in a word of that; her eyes were devouring his face as he looked down at the map. I was not shameless enough to watch them as they parted; but I heard him say, in almost his ordinary tone:

“Good-bye, Mumsey—it will soon be over!”

And she said:

“Be home for Christmas!” No more but that.

Men, Women, and War, Will Irwin, 1915

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Many thought in those early, optimistic days of the War, that it would all be over quickly and that the combatants would be home by Christmas, 1914. One wonders if this young officer ever came back to Mumsey, the dog, and the automobile, for Christmas—or ever.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.




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