Tommy’s Christmastide in Barracks and Forts.

I was lucky enough to be given another edition of The Navy & Army Illustrated for Christmas to add to my collection. (Vol III Dec 1896 -May 1987)

Within its tattered covers lay a plethora of fascinating articles, and starting in December 1896 that included a few on how various sections of the services celebrated their Christmas. No matter where in the world they were, how far from home and loved ones, how hot/cold it was.

Christmas traditions mattered very much to the serviceman.

What follows is an excerpt of one of the festive articles in its original words, with maybe a comment or two from me when I just can’t resist.

‘Though the ground is not covered with the proverbial snow, which, as children, we loved to associate with plum pudding and Christmastide, one may gather from the expectant look on the faces of those composing the ration party in the first photograph that something unusual is about to take place.

It is Christmas morning and the orderly men have fallen in to carry the rations to the cook-house, where the “Roast Beef of Old England” is destined to frizzle in a friendly spirit with turkeys, chickens, hams, and-but here we pause as dinner is not yet served. All is activity in the cookhouse during the morning. The master-cook’s patience (not to say vocabulary) is sorely tried, but at last the bugle rings out, “Come to the cook-house door boys.”

No second invitation is required to-day, not even the most sleepy of orderly men is late. The dinners are speedily removed, for the etiquette on such occasions is “first come, first served.”

Last but not least, the plum pudding with holly in the orthodox style is marched out under escort of three cooks. No wonder the “Funny man” thinks it necessary to salute when he considers the treat in store.

The third picture represents the drawing of groceries and “extras” on Christmas Eve. As “an omelet cannot be made without breaking eggs,” neither can we hope to prepare a satisfactory Christmas dinner without lemon-peel, allspice, and various other ingredients.

Of course what would Tommy’s celebrations be without the ubiquitous …


This is a scene often witnessed in barracks, especially at Christmas time when Tommy Atkins take the opportunity after the good old English fashion of making merry with his friends ( and to make merry Tommy must have beer, and plenty of it). The canteen authorities know that at such an universally festive season they must cater to the wishes of the rank and file, and accordingly an extra supply of beer and stout is ordered to the joy, not only of the contractor but of those who patronise the canteen.

(I wonder which local brewery supplied the Nothe fort and Red Barracks?)

That the load, on this occasion, is a heavy one, may be inferred from the size of the dray and the powerful horses. the duty of supplying malt liquors by contract to a regiment is one greatly sought after, for notwithstanding the work of “the Army Temperance,” and other kindred associations, all soldiers are not teetotallers, and, especially at the present season of the year, many are staunch supporters of “Mr Bung” provided the latter supplies them with desirable liquor.

(Many soldiers were far from teetotal and not just at Christmastide!)