December 2016: Christmas from the Western Front

PRONI's Document of the Month for December has a special Christmas theme - an Army Captain writing to his Carrickfergus cousin at Christmas time in 1916 about life at the Front, relations between nationalist and unionist regiments and food parcels.

Stephen Scarth, Head of Public Services at PRONI, said: “I selected this document for Christmas as it was sent from the Western Front on Boxing Day 1916. In the aftermath of the Battle of the Somme, it is fitting that we also remember those who lived.

This is a letter from Stephen Gwynn, an Irish Parliamentary MP, who was serving as a Captain with the 6th Connaught Rangers in the 16th (Irish) Division.  He writes home to his cousin, Amelia McCaughan, of Windmill Hill, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. The letter is part of the McCaughan family papers of Carrickfergus which are deposited with PRONI.

This letter is also of interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, he describes relations between the friendly rapport between what is perceived as a largely nationalist 16th Division and the mainly unionist 36th Division. A priest had said mass on Christmas morning in the open air to over 200 men. He acknowledged this was a big risk but nothing happened.  He also thanks Amelia for the food parcel he has received for Christmas. Food parcels at this time were prohibited by the Postal Service, however, the rule was often flaunted.

Stephen Gwynn has an interesting back story as he was a Protestant Nationalist politician who grew up in County Donegal. At the start of the war, he supported John Redmond’s call for Irish nationalists to enlist in Irish regiments and at first joined the 7th Leinster Regiment. He was one of five nationalist MPs who enlisted and served during the First World War, and took part in both the battles of the Somme in 1916 and Messines in 1917”.  

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The account of Stephen Gwynn can be found in the PRONI document, D2912/1/19.

Army Captain writing to his Carrickfergus cousin at Christmas time in 1916 about life at the Front, relations between nationalist and unionist regiments and food parcels Army Captain writing to his Carrickfergus cousin at Christmas time in 1916 about life at the Front, relations between nationalist and unionist regiments and food parcels Army Captain writing to his Carrickfergus cousin at Christmas time in 1916 about life at the Front, relations between nationalist and unionist regiments and food parcels

 

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