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Charles Fair

My grandfather's Christmas, 1917

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Charles Fair

Here are three letters in which my grandfather (Charles H Fair) describes his Christmas 1917. At that time he was a substantive Lt, Temporary Major and Acting Lt-Colonel. He was CO of 1/19th London Regiment.

At this time the battalion was in Bruce Huts, Aveluy where it was refitting and reorganising after having taken heavy casualties at Bourlon Wood earlier that month. The first letter is to his father:

23rd December, 1917

Dear Dad,

I hope you will receive my Xmas letter in time. The cold is intense. The snow is anything from four inches to three feet deep and the roads very slippery indeed. We had hoped to move into a better camp for our "rest", but as usual red tape was too much for us. However, we have been fairly successful in getting Xmas fare for the men and I hope they won't have too bad a time. We are giving them dinner at midday and having our own - all the Officers together - in the evening. There is a Church Army hut in the nearest village where we are to have a service. Today I went for a long tramp with Fox and succeeded in finding the grave of Capt. Dodgson - the man Marjorie was originally engaged to. You knew he was a Marlburian, didn't you? It was a long walk over snow-bound country, but I had promised to try and find it. His mother (the second Mrs. Fulton) is sure to be pleased. My shaving brush was frozen as stiff as a poker this morning. I woke Naylor up by attempting to spear his cheek with it. Tomorrow we are going out on some sort of tactical exercise. It will be horribly cold. Our aged Brigadier has broken down, as I prophesied, and his place is being taken by Col. Mildren - a Territorial and a very good fellow who has always been with the Division. I hope he will keep the Brigade permanently. I don't require "The Chronicle" any more, but "The Tatler" gives amusement to so many that I will keep it on for the duration! Stokes is now at Millbank, I believe. He has come down to Major and I am, of course, drawing some extra pay as long as I remain in command. No post today so I am without any more news. I do hope Helen is better again by now.

Love to all,

Your loving C.H.F.

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Charles Fair

This second letter is to my grandmother. He had married her in mid Sept 1917 after a whirlwind romance having met her for the first time towards the end of July 1917. They had had a week's honeymoon in late September before he went back out to the Western Front.

24th December, 1917

6.00 p.m.

My Own Darling,

I have been out all day in the snow on a tactical exercise, rather as we used to do at Aldershot. It was awfully cold, but not too bad as a change from the ordinary routine. So like the Army - they graciously took us out six to seven miles in a motor lorry and then, at the end of the day, we had to trudge home through the snow on foot, when there were heaps of details about Xmas still waiting to be seen to. However, everything seems to be working out all right for tomorrow. All the parcels for the men have come. The worthy people of St. Pancras and Camden Town are not only paying for most of the dinner but everyone has received from them also a tin of sausages, a tin of 50 cigarettes (do you want mine?) and a tin of cocoa and milk, which I consider is a very noble present at the present rate of prices. Your very dear letter of the 18th was waiting for me when I came in. I am so awfully glad you are pleased with your watch, darling, and also that you have done something about your cloak. I long to see my lady decked in her furs, ear-rings, watch and so on, and I know that it is she who shows them off to advantage and not the other way round. Darling, you would have smiled, a little tenderly, I think, to see the pace at which your Major walked home today hoping a letter from Marjorie: poor Naylor got left so far behind that he didn’t arrive for more than an hour after his C. O.! What a nuisance Humphrey being sent right up to Blackpool. We can hardly go right up there if he is still there when I come home. I am going through all my photos of Marjorie after I get to bed tonight and my very first thought on waking tomorrow will be to wish her everything that can possibly make her happy. We have our own dinner tomorrow evening at 8.00 p.m. In the middle of the day we are simply having a cold bite of something so as to be able to look after the men. My dear love, I want you and long for you in every possible way every minute that we are parted. I do really think that, if nothing very unforeseen happens, I might get home about a month from now and then I will give you a lovely time to make up for all your loneliness and waiting and all your dear sweet care and thoughts for me. However, we are going to enjoy my next leave whatever happens, aren’t we? Darling, do have a real rest in your holiday and enjoy yourself all you can so as to be ever so fit when I come home. I am splendidly fit now.

All my love,

Charles

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Charles Fair

The last one, also to my grandmother, 90 years later.

Christmas Day, 1917

6.30 p.m.

My Own Darling,

What a very clever little lady my wife is! Two letters from her on Xmas Day, dated 20th and 21st, was far more than I had dared to hope for. Thank you ever so much for them, sweetheart. There has been a bit of a thaw, but the snow is coming down again now and I want you very badly. I think the men are pleased with our efforts for them today. I started the day with a most awful headache (it is still rather bad) due, I expect, to standing about in the cold yesterday, but otherwise everyone seems in good spirits. We had only sandwiches for lunch, but are having our dinner this evening. I am sending this to Hill House as I calculate you will be back there by the time it gets to England. Oh, my dear, dear love, of all the love and longing which is going home today there can be none greater than mine: I only want to be allowed to spend my life in serving you and making you happy. Nothing could be too much trouble which could help in that, and you could never ask me anything which I shan’t try to do to make up for all your sorrows and days of loneliness, both before and now. I am dreadfully hungry to have your arms around my neck and your lips to mine once again, and all the precious memories of last September repeated and intensified as separation has made them still more wonderful. You wonder if you look after me properly: why, my darling, there isn’t a man out here whose wife gives her husband so much thought and care and, if you never sent me a thing except your dear letters and all the love they bring, I would still be blessed above every man in the world. I have to go round and visit some of the men who couldn’t have their dinner at mid-day, sweetheart, so no more now, but millions of kisses and every atom of my love and the biggest hug that every was for my wonderful little wife.

Charles

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ianw

Many thanks for posting these letters Charles. They certainly show that the Spirit of Christmas was very much alive and kicking during that winter of 1917. He seems like an awfully nice man - his humanity shines through in his letters.

Merry Christmas to all.

Ian

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Chris_Baker

I agree. Great stuff, Charles - thank you for posting them. How I envy you. I'd settle for having just a field postcard from my grandfather!

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stiletto_33853

Good stuff Charles, thanks for posting these.

Andy

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Charles Fair

Sadly I never met my grandfather as he died in 1950 some years before I was born. I am lucky though in that I have nearly 300 of his letters which were written between July 1915 and January 1918. Though these I feel that I do know him a little, but as a young man. He wrote these three when he was 32. (Had he lived long enough for me to know him and for me to be old enough to talk sensibly with him he would have had to be well into his 90s).

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Pete1052

I have more than hundred or so letters from my late dad from World War II in the U.S. Army. They take you from training in the U.S. in California and Missouri ('43) to combat in Europe ('45) and then the occupation of Japan ('45-'46). Dad was a clerk in a field artillery firing battery so he had access to a typewriter and all the letters are typed. He wasn't a hero and he never described himself as being one. He did refuse to accept a Bronze Star for meritorious service because he thought combat infantrymen deserved those kinds of awards more than he did.

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n cherry
Sadly I never met my grandfather as he died in 1950 some years before I was born. I am lucky though in that I have nearly 300 of his letters which were written between July 1915 and January 1918. Though these I feel that I do know him a little, but as a young man. He wrote these three when he was 32. (Had he lived long enough for me to know him and for me to be old enough to talk sensibly with him he would have had to be well into his 90s).

Charles,

Trust you are well and had a good Christmas.....do I remember correctly from the last time we met that you were trying to get together a booklet or something on your Grandfather or the 19th Londons? If so any news?

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tom compton

charles you lucky man 300 letters what a treasure .any photos ?.tom

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bob lembke

Wonderful trove! And the letters are really good. I have read and translated many, and they mostly are less interesting, more of the "socks warm, food crummy" variety.

6-7 years ago I found a trove of family letters from the war, about 50, mostly letters between my father and grand-father, who always served on different fronts. It was these letters that sparked my interest in WW I and led me to teach myself to read German and the delightful handwriting systems. My father evidently went about after the war and collected some of his letters to people outside of the immediate family, including a very touching one in which he consoled a family friend over the death of her brother, a company commander who fell in France.

I have a Christmas letter (1916), but it is bitter; he had hoped for boiled potatoes for Christmas dinner, and did not get them. In the letter he mentioned that in a recent week they had only gotten dinner four days out of seven, and that dinner was two spoonfuls of an awful synthetic jam, to be eaten with the shrinking bread ration received in the morning. Three days later he lay in a French dugout in no man's land for three days, with a badly busted up arm from a French 75 burst, before being found.

Bob Lembke

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Charles Fair

Niall - I am writing a book on the 19th, but it wont be ready for a while.

Tom - I have a few photos from my grandfather. Most of the photos I have are from two of my great uncles who served in different units and that is nearly 200 photos. I am very lucky that all this material was saved. (In fact the total number of wartime letters from all members of the family is nearer 800 which my father and I are trying to edit into one narrative.)

Bob - I have enjoyed your fathers letters and his stories from your interviews on many occasions - thank you once again.

Here is the 47 Div Christmas card from 1917.

post-892-1199115434.jpg

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n cherry

Charles,

Good luck with the writing....I'm sure you'll keep us informed of progress.....it is the 1/19th or the other battalions as well?

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Charles Fair

Niall - its 1/19th as it doesn't have a battalion history. Fortunately I have a personal account - either a diary entry or letter - from at least one person who served with the battalion on almost every day from 9 March 1915 until 11/11/1918. 1915 and 1918 are particularly well covered, with 1917 being the weakest year. Needs some heavy editing though as those sources comprise 250,000 words already even before any additional narrative drawn from the War Diary.

(What I am struggling with is whether to either make it a narrative a la 'The War The Infantry Knew' with heavy footnoting/appendices with biographical detail, roll of honour etc. or make it much more analytical along the lines of recent unit based academic studies from Gary Sheffield, Helen McCartney, Dale Blair, Tim Bowman and Mark Connolly. Decisions decisions....)

I am also thinking of republishing the 2/19th History with additional commentary & photos, extensive footnotes and a corrected roll of honour. (N&MP have done a straightforward reprint which really doesnt quite do it for me.)

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Charles Fair

Just bumping this to to the top as the content is kind of seasonal. The letters themselves are just about to appear in print for the first time.

Charles

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Marilyne

Charles,

Thanks for putting it back on top. they are wonderfull letters. Your grandfather seemed a great man.

I was wondering while reading the first entries if you made an attemps to publish all those letters, seems like after these last years, it's done ????? GREAT !!! Can we look forward to it soon ??

too late to say Merry Christmas ... Happy New Year !!

Marilyne

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BPJermyn

Wonderful letters from what must have been a horrible time for him and his comrades.

Thanks

All the best to all!!

BPJ

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