Its that time of year to convey my seasonal greetings to all my readers. But, while the majority of us enjoy a break from routine, have you ever wondered how your ancestors spent their Christmases in years past? Well, I’m fortunate enough to have located written accounts from two of mine for Christmas 1864 and Christmas 1916, both spent in unusual circumstances. I would like to share their accounts with you.
In late December 1864, my great-great grandfather, Detective-Sergeant George Clarke (aka ‘The Chieftain’) reported back on his investigations in Germany into a suspect, Ferdinand ‘Charley’ Kohl who had been arrested in Plaistow in November for the murder of a German colleague, Theodor Fuhrhop:
“… after receiving instructions from Mr Greenwood, Solicitor to the Treasury, I left London on the 21st ultimo [21 December] for Hamburg taking with me the whole of the property belonging to the murdered man, and which was in possession of Police. I arrived at Hamburg on the 23rd and delivered the letter of introduction to Mr. Ward, Her Majesty’s Consul in that town, who granted me every assistance. I shewed [sic] the property to the family of the deceased and it was all identified by Carl Henry Theodor Fuhrhop, the youngest brother, who I brought with me to London. On the 25th I left Hamburg for Splietau in Hanover, accompanied by an interpreter for the purpose of ascertaining the antecedents of the prisoner “Köhl” which I found to be generally bad. He enlisted in the Kings Regiment of Hussars in 1860 for ten years but after serving 2½ years he was convicted and sentenced to three months in a Military Prison for stealing from his comrades, and was then dismissed the service. In the early part of 1864 he was charged with stealing a quantity of harness at Ledorf near Splietau, but he then absconded to avoid punishment and came to England. I returned to Hamburg on the 27th and after making every possible enquiry I left for London where I arrived on the 31st. ” [Crown Copyright extract from National Archives file TNA:PRO MEPO 3/77]
So, no time for Christmas celebration that year for George Clarke! If you want to find out how his investigation concluded, its all in my new book ‘The Chieftain‘.
Fifty-two years later, George Clarke’s grandson, Charlie Payne, wrote home to his wife Ida from the army camp at Clacton where he was receiving training before being sent to France to serve on the Western Front during the latter stages of the First World War.
“Well, dear, I expect your next letter will tell me how you spent Xmas – I trust you all had a most enjoyable time. We had a very good time indeed. Sunday evening 4 of us went to Church to hear the carols and to feel “free men” for a change. Our billet (7 of us) were photographed in the morning and they will be ready on Friday when I will send my copy to you. I had a slice of pork and some goose with stuffing, peas, potatoes for dinner; 1 pint ale, Xmas pudding with sauce (very good), 2 packets Woodbines, Chocolates, 2 apples and 2 oranges so you see did not do badly. The sergeants waited on us and all the officers were present. Tea we had cake. In the evening our billet played Speculation till about midnight and unfortunately my luck was out and I lost 9d . Never mind, old girl, unlucky at cards lucky in love. Our new billet is much more comfortable and we now always have a big fire going. We still have to provide our own lights. Boxing Day we paraded till dinner and were then free, so watched a football match. Xmas evening I visited the Y.M.C.A. where there was a concert. They also gave a mince pie to each man and a couple of oranges (like schoolchildren). Wednesday we were back at full drill and this afternoon have been on bayonet drill and partook in my first charge. Like so many devils from hell. You may guess, dear, I am very tired as the ground was very muddy and the boots are heavy for running. We are having very frosty mornings but when the sun gets power it thaws leaving our parade ground very sloppy so that we always seem to be wrestling with Napoleon’s “4th element”[a reference to mud]. I trust dear that you and all the boys are quite well. I am quite well but get a bit tired when marching in full pack. We have all our equipment now and it wants a lot of keeping clean I can tell you. Next week, I think we go in for firing at the ranges, – so shall soon be a fully-trained soldier.”
In July 1917, Charlie was sent to France. It is good to know he had a reasonable Christmas to look back on. Charlie’s story will be the subject of my next book.
My best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to all my readers.