As temperatures drop and preparations for Christmas mount, we cast our thoughts 100 winters back to imagine how aÂ morning in December would have been experienced by a First World War soldier on the front line.
Fortunately our ability to envisage life in the trenches is aided by a series of documents here at The National Archives,Â just published as When the Office Went to War: a book of letters sent between 1915 and 1918 from employees of First Great Western Railway (GWR) to their colleagues back at the office.
The original documents are arranged into 12Â carefully bound scrapbooks (RAIL 253/516) comprising photographs, postcards, newspaper cuttings and letters from those on the front line. Reports back range greatly in topic and tone, including the difficulties of shaving a face studded with shards of shrapnel (‘I had not had a shave for about a week before I was wounded. I look a pretty picture’); enemy observations (‘they were a very measly looking lot and very young and some of them burst into tears when I pointed my bayonet at them’); and jokes about how they would assimilate into civilian life upon their return (‘weâ€™ll be digging a little hole in the garden to live in and stirring up our tea with a bit of stick’).
Jonathan George Symons, writing from a hospital in Taplow on 14Â December 1915, displays the sort of cheery disposition common in front line correspondence and throughout these letters:
‘At last I have arrived in England. Left Boulogne Sunday and travelled via Southampton to Taplow. My right foot is still very bad and they told me at Boulogne that I might have to have my big toe amputated. Anyway I hope not. If they do start any of that business I hope they will cut off some of the right side of the foot, for they would do me a favour by ridding me of a beautiful corn that has troubled me for a good many yearsâ€¦’