‘Today is Christmas Eve,’ he told Pips, and he was obviously in nostalgic mood, for most of the letter discussed events of past Christmasses. In particular he recalled the occasion when their neighbour, Jack Bolton, had responded to Sherriff’s comments on Father Xmas by giving him a ‘knowing wink’ and asking if he really thought that he existed:
‘I remember I kept awake purposely that Xmas Eve to prove it – I lay in bed and heard you and mother having supper and then the sound of chairs being pushed back, and then steps on the stairs. Now, I thought, I will see. So, pretending I was asleep I waited with great expectancy – mother came in and it was only to tuck me up and kiss me and say goodnight, and then all was oblivion, and in the grey light of morning I saw a misshapen stocking, with some of the well-known little men peeping out – Father Xmas has come, I thought, and after that there was no greater believer in him than I. And although the truth gradually dawned on me, I still look upon Father Xmas as the most delightful person who was ever imagined, and shall always do so.’
Turning to the practicalities of Xmas in the trenches, he told Pips that ‘Fritz has been a bit lively again. I hope he will keep quiet tonight and tomorrow as I believe he respects Xmas Day as much as we do. There is one comfort – when he is lively, we are livelier, in the proportion of about 10 to 1.’ He noted that the was writing at 4:30, and the guns had fallen silent after having been going all day. and he was checking with Morris to see if tea was ready (‘water just on a boil, sir,’ Morris replied).
After a few more lines of reminiscence on the special nature of Christmas, he turned to the future:
‘It is no use gloating on the good past times, it is for everyone to look upon the good times to come, and there is no-one who looks forward to it more than I do – I am quite sure my ambitions and ideals will never alter, and when the time comes when I am free again I shall start the studies that I had to drop and that library of classics and the study of History – while my spare time for outdoors will be devoted to sport and the seeing of historic sights – I look forward to many pleasant tours with you to the Roman Wall – York and other places…’
He had found a lot of happiness, he wrote, in looking forward to the time when he could freely explore English history and literature: ‘It is like a wonderful Island which you have started to explore and although have only just touched the edge, find such things that spur you on to explore the whole.’
As he came to the conclusion of the letter he noted that he had begun it in the light, and that it was now quite dark outside, so the letter could serve as something of a Xmas Eve souvenir. Although Pips would receive it after Xmas, he could be assured that Sherriff and his colleagues would try their best to make the very most of things, despite the circumstances: ‘So now goodbye, till I write again, wishing you and everyone at home a Happy New Year.’
[Next letter: 25 December]