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How families in Kent prepared for their first Christmas after the end of the First World War 100 years ago

By KentOnline reporter

Three weeks after the euphoria of the Armistice, the people of Kent were settling into the reality of peace, at the beginning of December, 1918.

For many, of course, their lives would never be the same.

Among those who mourned men lost in battle and to the dreadful influenza epidemic which raged across Europe and the world, were Mr and Mrs J Seager, of Keycol Farm, Newington, near Sittingbourne.

Goodhew, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690093)
Goodhew, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690093)

They had just heard their son Arthur had died from pneumonia, following a bout of flu in a hospital at Etaples, France.

A small ad in the Gazette revealed that Pte Seager, of the Honourable Artillery Company, was just 20 when he succumbed to the disease on 28 November.

Other death notices highlighted further losses to the town: Pte Ernest Young, of the Army Service Corps Remounts, who died from wounds at a clearing station on November 3, aged 39, leaving a grieving widow, Minnie, at Jay’s House, Milton Regis and Pte L Davis of the 1st Devonshire Regiment, who died of wounds in a field ambulance in France on 20 October.

The third son of Mr and Mrs Davis of Tiptree Farm, Iwade, his age is poignantly given as 19 years 10 months.

May and Sayers, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690098)
May and Sayers, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690098)

On October 25, Frederick Ethelbert, the son of William and Bertha Kemsley of Thrognal, Kemsley and grandson of Richard Bourne, former licensee of the Woodman’s Arms, Wormshill had died in Mesopotamia.

Imagine how far away that country must have seemed to a family in their grief.

As Christmas approached, townspeople were encouraged to forget the war for a few weeks and look forward to the first peacetime festive season for four years.

Several Sittingbourne shops, like those pictured here, advertised their wares in the hope to tempting sales and an announcement from the Board of Trade revealed that an order banning the lighting of shop windows would be suspended from December 9 and continue through the holiday period.

However, it was stressed that “no additional gas or electricity can be granted for this purpose”.

Reynolds, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690091)
Reynolds, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690091)
World Stores, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690089)
World Stores, Sittingbourne, Christmas ad, December 1918 (5690089)

A gripe about the billeting of soldiers returning from the Front was aired in a letter to the editor.

Under the pseudonym “One in the High Street”, the writer complained that many householders were refusing to accept men to stay in their homes.

The letter said: “The men of the British Army are entitled to a bed to lay on and a roof over their head, but why have so many distinctions been made and certain houses overlooked?”

He or she shockingly alleged that doctors were “busy giving certificates of the sudden weak state of health” of some home owners and said it was “a scandal that householders who have sons and brothers in the Forces, possibly in comfortable billets themselves, should refuse to house the sons and brothers of others.”

The writer concluded forcefully: “I would rather have six British soldiers in my house than one German” and suggested a card should be hung in the window of patriotic homes announcing “this house is billeted”.

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