A First World War Christmas card sent by front-line soldier Holly Chrismas to his sweetheart at home reflects the keen feelings of separation experienced by soldiers during the festive season.
Christmas on the front line
Christmas is a time when separation from loved ones is most keenly felt. Soldiers at the front during the First World War dealt with this in different ways. In 1916, the festively named soldier Holly Chrismas sent his sweetheart, Ada Manley, a beautiful Christmas postcard decorated with an embroidered holly motif. He wrote on the card:
To my Darling Sweetheart./ May every joy attend you this Xmas/ With fondest love & kisses/ from one only absent in person./ Your Only Boy/ Holly.
Holly was a prolific correspondent who frequently sent Ada two or three postcards a day, in addition to regular letters, as his means of coping with being apart from her. Coming from a generation of people who are all too often characterised as inexpressive of their emotions, Holly’s messages to Ada are wonderfully full of sentiment. He signs one, ‘With tons of love and kisses,’ and another, ‘Farewell pet, be good, fondest love and heaps of kisses’.
Holland Leckie Chrismas joined the Army in 1904 and initially served in the 1st Royal Dragoons, arriving in France in October 1914. In September 1917 he was commissioned from the ranks as a second lieutenant in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and attached to the Machine Gun Corps.
Holly and Ada were married in Southwark the following month. He survived the war and stayed in the Army into the 1920s. Thirty-seven of the postcards sent by Holly to Ada during the war have survived and were donated to the National Army Museum by their grandson.
Decorative Christmas cards and postcards were hugely popular with soldiers and were produced in large numbers during the First World War. Embroidered postcards decorated with romantic motifs and local landmarks were especially popular.
It is likely that women, possibly refugees in the war-stricken areas of Belgium and France, undertook the embroidery. Initially the work was done by hand, but towards the end of the war machines were used in order to produce the cards in large enough numbers.