Nostalgia: War goes on as a bloody year ends

Allied forces on the beach at Gallipoli.
Allied forces on the beach at Gallipoli.

There had been no lull in the fighting and firing on the Western Front at Christmas 1915. The British high command were determined to prevent a repeat of the fraternisation and football of Christmas 1914 and the Germans had the same policy.

And therefore one of the worst places to be on Christmas Eve and Day was in the front-line trenches with Scarborough’s Territorials in the Fifth Yorkshires or Green Howards.

Engraving of the sinking of the Lusitania.

Engraving of the sinking of the Lusitania.

Before the end of the year, it was known by the families of these men whether or in what condition they had survived this “festive season”.

The parents of Second Lieutenant CH Dell at South Villa, Londesborough Road, received a telegram informing them that their son had been wounded on Christmas Eve. They then waited anxiously for further news until a letter arrived from France assuring them that the wound was not serious. Lt Dell of the Fifth Yorkshires had been injured by shrapnel which had passed through the flesh of his thigh without other damage to it. He was now recovering in a Red Cross hospital somewhere in France.

The Dells must have been greatly relieved. All five of their sons had volunteered and they had already lost one of them, Lance Corporal Claude Dell, a fatal casualty of the Fifth’s courageous first action at St Julien in the Ypres salient on April 25. Another son, Guy, also in the Fifth, had been taken ill and repatriated for convalescence. A fourth, Trooper Fred Dell, of the Yorkshire Hussars, was at home on leave; and a fifth, Corporal LS Dell, was in France with the Flying Corps. The Dell brothers were well known in Scarborough as accomplished swimmers round the Castle foot.

The family of Private Charles S Armstrong of 10 Durham Street, also in the Fifth, had the worst possible news. He had been killed on Christmas Day. Formerly a St Martin’s schoolboy and aged 25, as a civilian he had been employed by Messrs Land & Co., grocers.

Another fatality in the Fifth on Christmas Day was Captain George Jefferson Scott, a 42-year-old veteran Territorial. He had worked for Barclays bank and his home was in Market Weighton. He left a widow and two children.

Finally, another boy from Durham Street, Private A Gray, in the Grenadier Platoon of the Fifth, was reported to have received a slight, unspecified wound. As yet, it was too early to give the full story of the ordeal of the Territorials at Christmas 1915.

Still, back in Scarborough, there were lives to lead and livelihoods to make. For some civilians at home there were two pieces of good news. The Canadian Fund grant to east-coast “watering places” had at last materialised. Lodging and boarding-house keepers were invited to apply for financial compensation to the secretary at the Town Hall. Assistance for only losses of rent and mortgage interest debt would be paid out of the fund to landlords and tenants.

Secondly, there was a New Year message from Mr W Boyes, prominently and expensively displayed on the front page of The Mercury of December 31. He wanted to remind readers that his company were “not ordinary Drapers”. The bulk of their goods for sale were “Remnants, Job Lots & Manufacturers’ Clearances”, offered to the public at bargain prices. It was hoped that their new premises would be open by next June, but in the meantime they would continue to operate from their temporary outlet in St Nicholas Hall and from the Olympia, where they had just taken in a large, cheap stock of underclothing, hosiery, calico, towelling and prints etc.

Finally, The Mercury gave a summary of the old year. Some of its comments here would be still endorsed by historians a century later even with the advantage of hindsight. The Western Front had become “a gigantic siege”. The BEF’s “lack of shells” and the “long-prepared superiority in artillery and ammunition” of the German army had frustrated any major allied breakthrough. However, under the direction of Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, supply of weapons to the Front had greatly increased. To meet the huge, unprecedented burden of the war, which was costing the nation £5 million a day, Asquith’s Coalition government had been compelled to raise income tax by 40 per cent and put duties on tea, tobacco, sugar, coffee and cocoa. During 1915 the cost of living had gone up by 30 per cent.

All of this was the truth, but in other reports The Mercury was “economical” with it. The fiasco at Gallipoli was noted, not explained. There was no reference to the astonishing incompetence of the expedition’s leaders and their gross underestimate of the Turks. Russia’s expulsion from Poland and Lithuania was described as a “masterly retirement”, not a devastating defeat. In fact, the 
Tsar’s “steamroller” was close to break-down and his assumption of supreme 
military command would lead to his downfall.

German U-boat warfare against allied shipping was said to be “piratical”, whereas the Royal Navy’s blockade of German and neutral trade in international waters was welcomed. Here there was no appreciation that the blockade was largely ineffective, it annoyed the Americans, and freed German machinery and labour for war production. The torpedoing of the Lusitania was labelled “cold-blooded massacre”, but there was no mention of the Kaiser’s apology, his withdrawal of the submarines and not a hint that, as the Germans claimed, the liner was carrying munitions.

Naturally, there was strong condemnation of the “brutal and murderous aerial attacks [by Zeppelins] on unfortified towns”, yet no admission that allied bombers were doing the same to German cities!

The most alarming news of 1915 was scarcely mentioned. Bulgaria had joined the Central Powers and together they had overwhelmed Serbia. Like Warsaw and Vilna, Belgrade was now in enemy occupation. On January 1, 1916, the first direct train from Berlin arrived at Istanbul: the Central Powers were now united as never before. The worst war in human history had still a long time to run.

[This is the last in the series on Scarborough and the Great War. A new series on Scarborough in the time of William Shakespeare, who died 400 years ago, begins next week]