Topic: All Over by Christmas?: Christmas in World War I (exhibition)

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All Over by Christmas?: Christmas in World War I was a display by Librarian Stephanie Smith in Research Collections at Tauranga City Library. It ran from December 2014 to January 2015.

Princess Mary’s Gift Box 1914

Princess Mary had wanted to pay for a Christmas gift for ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’ out of her own allowance. This was considered impractical, and so a public fund was launched, with her endorsement. The gift consisted of an embossed brass box containing a Christmas card from the Princess and different treats, usually tobacco, chocolate or writing equipment. Those eligible for the gift included all who were serving (not just at the front), prisoners of war, and next of kin of 1914 casualties. The boxes were airtight and of excellent quality, and were prized by many families. Mary, Princess Royal (1897-1965). Box kindly lent by the Tauranga Heritage Collection.

Princess Mary’s Gift Box (1914)


Regimental Christmas Cards

Robert Thomson Goulding (1886-1987), Tauranga surveyor and town planner, went to war in 1914 with the Hauraki Regiment. After the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 he was seconded to the 8th Field Survey Company of the Royal Engineers in Salonika. The Survey Company’s Christmas cards from 1916, 1917 and 1918 are from Bert Goulding’s papers held in the Tauranga City Libraries collection (Ams 251). 

Robert Thomson Goulding (1886-1987) Collection


The “Christmas Truce” of 1914

One of the most extraordinary episodes of the First World War was the unofficial cease-fire in front-line trenches on Christmas Day, 1914. For a few hours over parts of the front line, on a clear frosty day, English and German soldiers came out of their trenches to exchange greetings and souvenirs, to bury the dead, and even, according to some accounts, to play football. Reports suggest that the Germans started the truce, by singing carols and putting miniature Christmas trees along the parapets of their trenches. It was a haphazard affair which did not happen all along the front line, but nevertheless the truce made a deep impression. In subsequent years the military authorities on both sides took great care to ensure that it was not repeated.

The “Christmas Truce” of 1914


The “Christmas Truce” of 1914 – the Pope

Pope Benedict XV (1854-1922) called World War I “the suicide of civilised Europe” and believed that the war was contrary to every Christian principle. On 7 December 1914 he suggested a truce for the Christmas season, which was refused. It is thought that the “Christmas truce” along the front lines in 1914 was so informal and individualistic that it had little to do with the papal request. As the war dragged on Benedict XV made other brave but fruitless efforts to call a halt to hostilities between the European powers.

The “Christmas Truce” of 1914 – the Pope


The Weekly Press Christmas Number, 1914

The Press, the second newspaper to be published in Christchurch after the Lyttelton Times of 1851, first came out in 1861. In 1865 it began publishing a weekly edition aimed at country districts. From 1894 the Weekly Press was lavishly illustrated with photographs and half-tone engravings, and it became very popular.

It’s impossible to tell from looking at this 1914 Christmas number that there was a war on. The issue contains full-page photos of New Zealand beauty spots, advertisements for luxury travel by various shipping lines, and short fiction, for example “The Wooing of Sue” by Dora Willberg. The feature on page 15, which urges parents to allow their children freedom to enjoy childhood because of the possibility of a rough future, is the only faint hint of awareness of a more troubled world.

The Weekly Press Christmas Number, 1914


The Auckland Weekly News, 24 December 1914

The Auckland Weekly News: a journal of commerce, agriculture, politics, literature and art ran from 1863 to 1971. From 1898 a photographic supplement was added. This came out every Thursday. Until it ceased publication the Auckland Weekly, or just the Weekly News as it became known, documented the social history of New Zealand in detail.

Its World War I editors did not shrink from showing images of the war, which ranged from patriotic (not to say jingoistic) cartoons to photographs of dead Germans. It also brought out pages and pages of photo portraits of New Zealand casualties. This acknowledgement of the war is in marked contrast to the Weekly Press issue also on display.

by Stephanie Smith (2014).


How to cite this page: Smith, Stephanie (2014). All Over by Christmas?: Christmas in World War I. Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (Smith, 2014)

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All Over by Christmas?: Christmas in World War I (exhibition)