Thursday, 26 November 2015

Christmas Presents for the Front

From the Portsmouth Evening News, 26th November 1915.

Presents for Britain’s Sons Abroad.

With the approach of Christmas the thoughts of all will be directed to our soldier boys, husbands and sweethearts bravely serving in the trenches in France and Gallipoli or wherever the British fighting forces are engaged, and the heads of the “old folk at home” will have to seriously don the considering cap to determine the nature of the comforts and luxuries which will be most acceptable.  When traders vie so successfully in making their productions attractive, and their glowing claims almost induce one to believe that each particular article they produce is “just the thing,” the task is not altogether easy.

Friends naturally endeavour to select those things which the Government themselves do not provide, or which are not generally sent out by the hundred-and-one invaluable organisations that thousands loyal ladies so willingly work up.  Some little assistance in the perplexing matter may therefore not be unwelcome, and if we can aid in directing readers to send the most acceptable gifts, the purpose of the article will be more than served.
Value of Chocolate.
Mr G. Valentine Williams, with the British General Headquarters, recently wrote:—
For some time past, while going round the trenches and the billets in rear of the firing line, I have been inquiring both from officers and men as to the little comforts which are most popular with the men.  The typical weather in winter in these parts of Belgium and Northern France is a biting wind accompanied by drenching, icy rain.

Anybody who has experienced the horrors of this climate knows that after you have guarded against the cold as well as you can by donning warm clothing, the next best thing to keeping the body warm and the heart cheerful is to have something “grateful and comforting” to eat, something to chew on between meal times.

There is nothing more warming or more sustaining than really good, strongly concentrated, eating chocolate.  When communications become difficult the men in the front line are sometimes reduced to the hard ration oatmeal biscuits in lieu of bread.  Those biscuits are nourishing and extremely filling, but terribly “monotonous” to eat: but officers and men alike have assured me that a piece of chocolate, eaten with them, renders them quite palatable.

In the recent offensive in the Champagne, I believe, the French military authorities issued a special chocolate ration to the attacking infantry, relying on its nourishing and sustaining powers against the possibility of a delay in getting the rations up during the battle to the men in the most advanced line.  Therefore, if you can, put a tablet of good, strong chocolate in your packages for the front.

Sweets, Stationery, Smokes.
Peppermints and bull's-eyes are also enormously appreciated by the men (adds Mr. Valentine Williams).  Some of the little general stores in the villages behind the line are beginning to stock little packets of English peppermints, a sure sign of their popularity with the Army, for in the shops in our zone of operations supply invariably follows demand.  Peppermints and bull’s-eyes are very cheap in England, and take up very little room in a parcel.  Home-made toffee and gingerbread biscuits (ginger snaps) are also eagerly welcomed, and I daresay that chewing gum would be equally popular; in fact, anything that is warming and pleasant to the taste and, at the same time, calculated to take a man’s thoughts a little off desperately disagreeable surroundings.

Writing materials are always useful, but the so-called letterette writing-blocks in which the paper can be folded up so as to form its own envelope are the most popular form of writing-blocks of all.  Neither in the trenches nor in their billets have the men much room for their belongings, and a pad which combines letter and envelope in one is therefore very acceptable to them, as in the long evenings in billets letter-writing is one of their principal occupations.  It would be well worth the while of an enterprising manufacturer to put some combination writing-blocks of this nature on the market in quite cheap paper and therefore at a moderate price.

If one is sending “smokes” to a Regular battalion sometimes put in some “black twist” tobacco.  Old soldiers of the Regular Army dearly love this black tobacco which you can cut from its twist with a knife, and are missing it greatly in the field.  The Territorial battalions, being, generally speaking, recruited from a different class, have little use for “black twist” and prefer to stick to cigarettes and smoking mixtures.

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