Christmas for a Soldier

An updated from The Gap RSL Sub-Branch

Christmas cheer for some of our troops

The recent Remembrance Day ceremonial in Memorial Park in Walton Reserve was rated by most as  a success, in spite of the COVID-19 restrictions ; impressive in its solemnity and the wide range of the participants .The  President and Members of the Gap RSL sub-branch are grateful to those who participated in the Memorial Service, either by attending in person or joining in spirit in another place. The young ladies and gentlemen of the local schools considerably enhanced the significance of the occasion.

Thanks also go to members of the community who supported the local pre-Remembrance Day badge sales that generate much needed funds to continue the Sub-branch’s welfare activities. One of these important activities is to  host our War Widows to a pre- Christmas lunch which is always a delight and a privilege.

We rightly honour those who have made the supreme sacrifice, but equally we should never forget those they have left behind, those who have also made a sacrifice. As the poet said  ‘no man is an island – there is always a consequence, collateral grieving; a mother, a wife a sister, a daughter.’

Christmas and war are not compatible, but too often they are thrust together. What is it about Christmas that  sparks a sense of humanity at this time of the year? The Christmas truce of 1914 ­– a series of unofficial ceasefires – was a statement of peace and humanity amid one of history’s most brutal wars.

And what is it that at this time of the year spurs us to make every effort to cobble together a Christmas Dinner, no matter what the circumstances?

Some Diggers from days gone by celebrating Christmas whilst on assignment

Hundreds of thousands of Australians have spent Christmas at war: freezing in First World War trenches, as prisoners of war of the Japanese, or on reconnaissance and ambush operations in Vietnam. Even today Australian soldiers find themselves spending Christmas far from home on operations in Afghanistan.

Soldiers are not forgotten at this time of year, and efforts have always been made to bring a little joy – and a decent meal – to those serving, or those recovering from wounds.

Lt Col Harold Beiers MC MID, Commanding Officer of 19 BTN (who has numerous family descendants scattered around the western suburbs ) wrote home from France on December 30th 1917:” We had a pretty good Christmas dinner considering. Tomato soup, salmon, tinned turkey, peas and potatoes, plum pudding, stewed  (tinned) pears and creme (tinned). In fact it was ALL TINNED except for the potatoes. Also we managed to get hold of some whiskey and port wine for the units. Not bad, was it? ”

Christmas is often a marker of time for a soldier at war. They count their service by each one that comes and goes, always  optimistic that it will be the last spent away from home.

The freezing cold Christmases of the Western Front gave way to tropical heat and humidity during the Second World War, as most Australian servicemen spent at least one festive season in the Pacific. But that did not necessarily mean an end to the traditional hot Christmas lunch. On Bougainville Christmas 1944, Australians sat down to “turkey, ham, fresh potatoes peas  and onions, followed by plum pudding and sauce “

Some prisoners of war even managed to rustle up a decent meal for Christmas. Jock Mathieson who was interred at a camp on Banka Island for Christmas 1943 wrote to a friend “ Great preparations are being made for tomorrow’s food. I believe we will be eating throughout the day. Three pigs have been slaughtered – they are being prepared just now for the cooking pot.”

Christmas for some who served in the Vietnam War  featured festive concerts by Australian entertainers, and parcels provided by the Australian Forces Overseas Fund.  A diary entry of Captain David Wilkins of C Company, 5RAR, records that his company’s officers and sergeants began Christmas Day 1969 by “serving coffee royale [coffee laced with rum] to the diggers IN BED. Later we continued our duties and served the diggers Xmas dinner, much to their delight. Will have to knock ’em back to size tomorrow.” They had earned it, having spent the previous ten days on reconnaissance and ambush operations in rugged, jungle-covered territory west of Binh Ba.

However, the soldiers of 8RAR were not so lucky, and found themselves continuing to fight in spite of a so-called Christmas Day truce. Second Lieutenant Neil Smith of 8RAR wrote: “Christmas Day was just another day to us. The battalion had four contacts on Christmas Day and killed two VC [Viet Cong].”

Since then many Australian troops have spent Christmas on deployment in conflict zones in various parts of the world . ADF personnel have been involved in Afghanistan since 2001.  No involvement was more important to Australia than in our nearest neighbour Timor Leste ( East Timor ).

 

There is a constant reference to “ sauce” being served, close inspection of  the various photos shows the ingenuity of the Aussie Digger in ‘sourcing the sauce’; some in stone jars, some in tall brown bottles, some in green cans !

Spare a thought for those currently deployed overseas , not only on land but deployed at sea; whether in operations against pirates or drug smugglers or terrorists. However in the finest naval tradition our sailors will be served their Christmas Dinner by their Captain and Officers .

From the President and members of The Gap RSL Sub-Branch, best wishes for a peaceful, contented and relaxing Christmas and thank you  for your support

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