It is my good fortune to have some documented records for several of my ancestors which have provided me with information about their Christmas-time experiences. Amongst two of the more interesting accounts are those of my great-great-grandfather George Clarke in 1864 (then a Detective-Sergeant at Scotland Yard) and his grandson, Charlie Payne, in 1918 a Private in the 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. By coincidence, in those two years both men spent their Christmas, away from their families, in Germany. I have already briefly described George Clarke’s 1864 Christmas in an earlier Blog Post (see ‘Christmas past’). Today’s Post provides a fuller account of Clarke’s 1864 expedition to Germany, and goes on to describe Charlie Payne’s 1918 experiences at Christmas in post-Armistice Germany. I would also like to take this opportunity to convey seasonal greetings to all readers of this blog, amd my best wishes for 2013.
Detective-Sergeant George Clarke, Christmas 1864
George Clarke had spent much of November 1864 investigating the murder of Theodor Fuhrhop, a recent German immigrant, whose decapitated body had been found on the Plaistow Marshes, London. The prime suspect, another German, Ferdinand Kohl, had been quickly arrested but the case against him needed to be strengthened by confirmation that some clothes and other items that Kohl had pawned had originally belonged to the murder victim. As Fuhrhop had arrived in Britain only a few weeks before his murder, the people best able to provide confirmation or otherwise of this were his family back in Germany. Clarke picks up the story….:
“I beg to report in reference the murder of Theodor Christian Fuhrhop at Plaistow, K Division…… that after receiving instructions from Mr Greenwood, Solicitor to the Treasury, I left London on the 21st ultimo [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. I have since furnished Mr Hodgson of the Treasury with all the information I had obtained and that gentleman has also taken a verbal statement from Carl Henry T. Fuhrhop. Mr Hodgson expressed himself pleased with the result of my enquiries”. [Crown Copyright extract from National Archives file TNA/PRO MEPO 3/77].
These days, a journey of that nature might be straightforward. In the middle of winter in 1864 it was undoubtedly less so….and somewhat lacking in Christmas cheer! However, Clarke’s trip to Germany proved worthwhile. The information that he gained then, and during his earlier investigations in London, was central to the case against Kohl who was convicted for the murder of Fuhrhop and sentenced to death, a sentence that was carried out in public on 26 January 1865 outside Springfield Prison, Chelmsford. For further information about Clarke’s investigation, see pages 51-65 of ‘The Chieftain‘.
Private Charles Frederick Payne, Christmas 1918
On 25 December 1918, 44 days after the 11 November Armistice when hostilities in the Great War had ceased, Charlie Payne and his battalion arrived at their final destination near Mechernich, Germany, after a protracted march across Belgium as part of the British Army of Occupation of the Rhineland. In his letter of 28th December to his wife Ida , he describes the highlights of his Christmas, including his first bath in 6 weeks, and playing cards with the erstwhile enemy:
“Hőstel, near Mechernich, Germany, 28/12/18
My dear Wife, I duly received yours of the 15th enclosing letters and cards from all the boys for which thank them. The parcel also reached me in perfect order and the contents were greatly appreciated, more particularly as we were in a nice comfortable billet at a village called Amel. Since then we have been on the march, but spent a fairly decent Xmas Day and Boxing Day at Mechernich. Yesterday we moved to Hőstel and are billeted in a cottage. There is plenty of snow about and the weather is very bitter. I do hope it is not so severe in London. On the whole the Germans have received us very well and their houses are neat and clean after the French and Belgian ones. Like us they are heartily glad the War is over and do not seem to grieve much for the loss of their Kaiser. I spent Xmas Day in converse with a Prussian Guard, his wife and 7 children; played cards with them. Who would have thought this possible a few months ago. The youngsters had plenty of toys etc. for Xmas and a big Xmas tree; as you know Germans like us keep Xmas in fine style. I was sorry to leave Mechernich. I had a bed to sleep in with nice clean sheets and you may guess I did sleep. No doubt what brought Germany to her knees was “shortage of food”. They are very hard up for it. Their bread is awful. We had nothing special Xmas Day, but perhaps we should have a good spread later on when we get settled.
I am looking forward to getting your next letter telling me how you all spent Xmas. I hope after your longer hours and work you may get a good rest. The conversation between Dick and John I can picture and I should have loved to have heard them. I note all your other news, dear. I must tell you I had a nice card from Mrs Palmer also a letter. I expect Jack was home for Xmas [Jack and Alice Palmer were Charlie’s brother and sister-in-law]. What did you think of our regimental Card – I think it good. Please take care of it as a souvenir. Give my love to all upstairs and I trust they are all quite well. Gert [Charlie’s younger sister] sent me 50 cigs. and some chocolate and please thank Dolce [Ida’s younger sister] very much for the ‘bacca’ – “Bondman” – I was well away.
Pleased to say I am quite well except for “chats” [body lice]. For some reason or other we have not had a change of underclothes since about Nov. 15th and only one bath (yesterday). I have “dumped” several articles of clothing but do not quite like parting with my shirt this weather. Tell Ted and John [Charlie’s two eldest sons] I shall be answering their nice letters shortly and when I can buy some picture cards I’ll send them some which I know they will keep until I come home.
Will you please get me 2 “German Self-Taught by the Natural Method” (Thimm’s System) Revised by W.E. Eber M.A. Second Edition published by E. Marlborough & Co. 51, Old Bailey, E.C. Price 1/9 each paper cover. I am learning a little of the German language as it is rotten sitting here like a dummy. I want one for myself and one for a pal. If, however, they are out of print, try and get me some other German book. I am sorry to trouble you, dear. Perhaps it would be as well to register them. Did you get the 20 Francs I sent before Xmas – I hope so? With heaps of love and kisses to you and the boys. Ever yours, Charlie.”
Charlie’s aspirations to learn German quickly paid off. Within the next two weeks he had become the interpreter to B Company, bartering effectively with the local German population to help purchase the necessities of life, including the food required for a belated Christmas dinner for the men of his battalion. In fact he ended up having two Christmas dinners as the Officers invited him to join them after he had managed to acquire sufficient chickens for their own meal! (These and many other aspects of Charlie’s life with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment will be described in my next book ‘Charlie Payne’s Hatbox’).