As the First World War dragged on despite the cheery belief back in Blighty that it would be over by Christmas 1914, the second festive season rolled around and the grim realities of war came home to roost.
It was just weeks before Christmas 1915 and the number of deaths announced in the local paper was beginning to overwhelm families in Salford.
The Eccles and Patricroft Journal of December 1915 tells us that several Eccles men from the B Company of The Lancashire Fusiliers had been killed, they were under the leadership of a Captain Tweed.
Private Holt who lived at Pym Steet, Patricroft; 26-year-old Private J. Street; and Private Sam Hamer, 26, were among those listed as being killed in action.
Private Street before joining the army was employed by Eccles Co-op Society as a coal delivery driver and lived with his mother at 27, Phillip Street, Eccles.
Private Sam Hamer lived at Parrin Lane, he got married in July 1914 and was living with his wife at 436 Liverpool Road, Peel Green at the time of his death, he had been employed at the Westinghouse Company in Trafford Park, mention is made of sympathy for his young widow.
Captain Tweed wrote letters to the deceased soldiers families to tell them how their son’s had met their sad fate.
He said that on the 10 December both men were on duty on an advanced sentry post when the Germans blew up a mine, both men were killed instantaneously and buried under the debris.
Captain Tweed and a Sergeant Smith crawled out into no man’s land in an effort to retrieve their bodies from the crater and spent an hour searching, all the time under fire from German snipers.
Showing remarkable bravery Sergeant Smith tied a rope around his waist and returned several times to the crater in an effort to retrieve his fallen comrades’ bodies, he was eventually struck by a German sniper’s bullet which luckily just grazed his head.
Eventually the mission to retrieve the men’s bodies was given up as German artillery fire was being aimed in the direction of the crater and had already wounded another two men from the same Battalion.
Finishing his letter to the fallen soldiers’ families Captain Tweed added that it would be some comfort to them to know that the men died at their posts like true soldiers, and laid down their life’s for this country’s liberty and welfare.
I fail to see how that would cheer up a young widow and a grieving mother.
Private T. Mellor who lived at Knowsley Avenue also had a letter published in the paper which he had written to his sister telling of his experiences in the trenches, and they sound almost unbearable.
He states that they practically get no sleep whilst they are in the trenches with the constant German shelling and sniping, add to this the driving rain which floods the trenches and the bitterly cold weather.
He says that his Battalion have suffered quite a few casualties, obviously the letters were heavily censored and the true figures would never be allowed to be printed in case it damaged public morale, strange how many brave men died ‘instantaneously and never felt a thing’ if you were to believe the newspaper that is.
Private Mellor uses some quaint army phrases to describe the shelling, he says that the Germans were sending over ‘sausages’ and trench mortars, I assume that sausages was army banter for shells, adding that the Germans gave it to them ‘pretty hot’.
He also tells his sister how he lay for twelve hours in a listening post yards away from the German’s in an effort to overhear their plans, and considered himself lucky to be alive.
Finally he thanks her for her gifts of socks and tobacco adding that he received presents from the Comfort Fund Committee of Eccles who provided small luxuries if not necessities for local troops, and chocolate and toffee from the Daily Chronicle newspaper.
He finishes the letter rather poignantly saying: “All the same I would have liked to have been home for Christmas.”