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No Christmas Truce for Tutbury Soldier

The first soldier from Tutbury to die in WWI was Grenadier William Edgar Priestley aged 22, of Cornmill Lane, who was killed in action on Christmas Day 1914.  He is buried in the Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy, Pas de Calais.  He was a professional soldier with 2nd Bn Grenadier Guards who had fought in the mobile war that took place in France between August and November 1914 when the end of the 1st Battle of Ypres saw the start of trench warfare.

It is often thought that the major casualties in WWI did not start until trench warfare became the norm, but mobile war took a huge toll before the post Ypres stalemate set in:

William Priestley's 2nd Bn Grenadier Guards landed in France in mid-August 1914 and were involved in heavy fighting right up to Christmas; from their original strength of 29 officers and some 1,000 men the Grenadiers lost 959 killed, wounded or missing by the end of the year - practically their entire strength.  On Christmas Eve alone, they lost 3 officers and 15 other ranks killed, with 9 missing and 29 wounded.

The book "Fifteen Rounds a Minute: The Grenadiers at War, August to December 1914", by Major "Ma" Jeffries and others, says of Christmas Day

Hard frost and ground as hard as bricks.  Dykes frozen over.  

At daybreak a few Germans put their heads up and shouted 'Merry Xmas'.   

Our men, after yesterday, were not feeling that way, and shot at them.

William Priestley died in that day's fighting, shot by a sniper.

The legend of the Christmas Truce of 1914 is well known, with many accounts on the Internet such as the websites Hellfire Corner, Spartacus Educational and Wikipedia.  However, what is less well known is that the truce only applied to the Western Front and even then, only in a few parts - heavy fighting and snipers took their toll elsewhere.  

The website "The Long, Long Trail" has an account indicating the losses that were sustained, and fits in with the fact that for Tutbury, the first casualty of the war was Grenadier William Edgar Priestley.  "The Long, Long Trail" records that on Christmas Day 1914 the "2nd Grenadier Guards suffer losses in a day of heavy fighting".

Most accounts talk of a general truce on Christmas Day and in some areas a five-day truce starting on Christmas Day.  The table below shows that in many areas this was not so.  Extracted from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website, it shows the countries in which the casualties who died were buried or remembered; this country is likely to be where they died.

The UK deaths were a combination of the wounded who died after repatriation and a large number of Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine men (see the second table).  

Even where the truce was supposed to be in operation on the Western Front, the table shows that, according to CWGC records, 22 died in Belgium and 57 in France on Christmas Day, 69 and 215 respectively over the five-day period.

Approximately 130 Regiments had men killed during this period; those suffering 10 or more deaths during the five-day "truce" are shown in the second table below.

The Mercantile Marine casualties in the second table were from three freighters; two were definitely sunk by a minefield off Scarborough and a third probably was.  Six of the Navy/Naval Reserve casualties were also from the same cause, the loss being an armed trawler on minesweeper duties.

The legend of the Christmas Truce hides the terrible reality that many families faced.


This page last updated 31/07/2017 18:26:17

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Christmas 1914

Country of burial or
Remembrance

Fri 25 Dec

Sat 26 Dec

Sun 27 Dec

Mon 28 Dec

Tue 29 Dec

Total

Australia[1]




1


1

Belgium

22

6

4

8

29

69

Egypt


4

2

1

2

9

France

57

40

36

34

48

215

Gambia



1



1

Germany[2]

1


1

1

2

5

Gibraltar

1


0

1


2

India

2

7



1

10

Iraq


2




2

Ireland, Republic of[3]

2


2

1

2

7

Kenya

2

1




3

Namibia

1



1


2

New Zealand[4]





1

1

Nigeria

1

2

3


3

9

Pakistan

1




1

2

Papua New Guinea[5]





1

1

South Africa

1





1

Sudan


1




1

United Kingdom

58

42

18

20

21

159

United States of America[6]


1




1

Total

149

106

67

68

112

502

[1] Australia – a member of the Australian Infantry Base Depot – death possibly due to accident or illness whilst serving.

[2]Germany – presumably PoWs

[3] Ireland – presumably died at home of wounds

[4] New Zealand – a member of the "New Zealand Training Unit" – death possibly due to accident or illness whilst serving.

[5] Papua New Guinea – there was a German Protectorate from 1884-1914 in the North-eastern part of New Guinea - it fell to Australian Forces in 1914.

6] USA - a Canadian Driver from the Field Artillery who was buried in Milwaukee

Christmas    1914

Regiment

Fri 25 Dec

Sat 26 Dec

Sun 27 Dec

Mon 28 Dec

Tue 29 Dec

Total

Army







3rd Sappers and Miners





10

10

Coldstream Guards

8

4

4

2

2

20

Gloucestershire Regiment

5

2

1

3


11

Grenadier Guards

6

2

1

1

1

11

Middlesex Regiment

0



4

7

11

Royal Garrison Artillery

3

4

1

1

1

10

Royal Scots

2

1

2

1

4

10

Welsh Regiment

3

2

2

1

4

12

Navy







Mercantile Marine

31

20




51

Royal Naval Reserve

8

2

1

1

2

14

Royal Navy

5

7

2

1

3

18