ID: WW1_CHR / Roger Bullen / Tony Millatt

TitleCorporal Herbert William Christmas
AbstractWW1 Memorial Profiles for Great wigborough

Corporal Service No. 127577
73rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment)
(Enlisted at Woodstock, Canada)

Died 1 March 1917 age 21.
Buried Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery, Souchez. France.
Commemorated on Great Wigborough War Memorial

Herbert William Christmas was born on 30th January, 1895 in Chelsea, W. London, the second son of William John christmas and Ellen Christmas née Holland. William John and Ellen had married in Great Wigborough in 1887, but by 1901 William was working as a butler in Paddington, London, and all four children were born in London in the 1890s. William John's father, also a William, ran a carriers business from Drakes Corner, Great Wigborough. He died in 1900 and William John and family returned to Great Wigborough to run the business.

In 1911, Herbert emigrated to Canada to take up farming, settling in Washington, Ontario. On 15th November, 1915, he volunteered and enlisted at Woodstock joining the 71st Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. After a period of training his Battalion sailed for England from Halifax on the S.S. Olympic on 1st April 1916 arriving at Liverpool on 11th April.

Training continued in England, and on 28th June, 1916 he was transferred to the 73rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment) known as the Royal Highlanders of Canada. He left for France on 12th August, 1916 arriving at le Havre the next day. In September 1916 he spent a week on a grenade course and on 7th October he was promoted to Lance Corporal and then acting Corporal on 16th December, 1916. There followed a further grenade course at the end of December.

By early 1917, the Battalion were in the Carency Sector near Vimy Ridge, north of Arras. On 1st March, 1917 it was involved in an attack which was to lead to Corporal Christmas losing his life. The attack is described in the Battalion War Diary.

Battalion in the line on its regular frontage.
At 17.05 p.m. code message was received from the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade to the effect that the Gas attack and consequent Infantry attack which had been postponed for several days would take place that morning. This was immediately communicated to the Companies also in code, and preparation for the assembly commenced.

At 02.00 a.m. Battalion Headquarters moved to Advanced Battalion Headquarters off UHLAN C.T. (communications trench) where communication was established with Advanced Brigade Headquarters and with both points of assembly. 'B' and 'D' Companies moved from ARRAS ALLEY and assembled in dugouts in LIME STREET, dugouts on TUNNELLERS RIDGE and in COBURG NO 1 TUNNEL (This tunnel was three hundred yards long and fifty feet below the surface), Major Brown 2nd in Command, being in charge of these two Companies which occupied the left half of the Battalion frontage. 'A ' and 'C' Companies forming the right half of the attack, moved out of the front line to the right where they assembled in BLUE BULL TUNNEL, Major H P Stanley being in charge of these two companies for assembly. The disposition for the attack was asfollows:-

Right Half 1st Wave - 'A' Coy under Captain B Simpson and Lieut. D.A. Foineu
Left Half 1st Wave - 'B' Coy under Captain H.H. Patch andLieuts. G.H.H. Eadie and P.G. Hawkins.
2nd Wave 'C" Coy under Lieut. G.S. McLennan, Major Muvroe and Lieut J. Housworthy.
No 1 Patrol 1 Platoon of 'D' Coy under Lieut Griffiths
No 2 Patrol 1 Platoon of 'D' Coy under Lieut Lester
No 3 Patrol 1 Platoon of 'D' Coy under Lieut MacGregor
No 4 Patrol 1 Platoon of 'B' Coy under Lieut Hutchinson.

Trench map of the Carency Sector showing the trench system that Corporal Christmas's Battalion advanced through

At 2.55 a.m. messages were received from all Companies that they were in position.

At 03.00 a.m. the first gas clouds, known as the 'White Star Gas' was released. Within a few minutes after the release of the gas, very heavy rifle and machine gun fire opened up from the German front and support lines,, and the sky was lit up by hundreds of flares sent up by the Boche; this fire and the sending up of the flares continued for 36 minutes showing that the gas was not effective. At about 03.06 a.m. the Germans opened heavy Artillery fire across our whole front, which continued until 04.00 a.m. at which time it died down and shortly afterwards the situation became almost normal. Soon after 4 o 'clock the direction of the wind commenced to change, and by 05.00 a.m. which was the time for the liberation of the 2nd Gas Wave, it was coming from almost due north, so that it was decided that the gas could not be let off. The Infantry attack was to commence at 05.40 a.m., about 05.20 a message was received from Advanced Brigade Headquarters to the effect that there remained considerable gas in our front line trench for a distance extending 300 yards north from GRANBY C.T. This interfered with the assembly of our right attacking parties and instructions were immediately sent to Major Stanley to have 'A ' and 'C' Companies assemble in front and behind the front line trench and to proceed overland instead of assembling in the trench; this complicated the assembly of these two Companies very much, but the situation was admirably handled by Major Stanley.

At 05.32 a.m. while assembly across our whole front was in progress, heavy artillery fire was opened on our front and support lines in ZOUAVE VALLEY by the Germans. It transpired that the Brigade on our right had commenced to get out over the parapet and form a line in front of our wire at 05.30 instead of waiting for our barrage which was to commence at 05.40 a.m., this was noticed by the Germans who immediately sent up their 'S.O.S.' with the foregoing results. This meant that the last 5 minutes of the assembly of our parties had to be completed under fire, and a number of casualties occurred before our men got out of our trenches. On the right casualties began to come into BLUE BULL TUNNEL before much more than half of our attacking parties were out of the tunnel. A few men were affected by gas on this front. Promptly at 05.40 a.m. our barrage opened up and our attacking parties got over the parapet and went forward. On our extreme left our barrage was short, and some casualties were caused to our men by our own fire particularly among the party going out by way of Sap B.6 (A short trench extending into 'no man's land'). Casualties soon began to come back to our lines about 06.20, Lieut. Eadie reached Advanced Battalion Headquarters and about 06.50 Captain Patch also returned both wounded slightly. Wounded came in steadily, but it was a considerable time before it was possible to even approximately check up casualties.

An attack on the German lines underway

By 08.00 a.m. the situation had quieted down, except that several of our wounded accompanied by Lieut Hutchinson were still out in shell holes beyond Sap B.6. The artillery was called upon for a barrage on the German front line to enable these men to get in; their fire however was short and word was sent to have it stopped. During the fire, Battalion Headquarters moved to its normal position in ZOUAVE VALLEY and our own shells hit just behind the personnel of Battalion Headquarters while moving down UHLAN C.T.. It was for a time thought the Germans would counter attack, and this impression was increased by the fact that a German aeroplane made several flights along our line not over 100 yards in the air, evidently observing the number of men in our line and their movements; all precautions were taken to beat off a counter attack, and it did not develop.

During the day there continued a certain amount of enemy artillery activity, which however did not do any particular harm. That night it was decided to keep the whole Battalion on the eastern side of ZOUAVE VALLEY in case of attack and the men of the Support Companies were accommodated in tunnels and dug outs on the Western slope of the Ridge. The night however passed quietly. Many individual cases of outstanding bravery were noted during the action, especially Sgt Millar and Sgt Holmden. During the attack 22 prisoners were taken by the Battalion, 19 of them being taken by Sgt Hannaford and Pie McLachlan. Officers and men with out exception fought magnificently.
Casualties during the action were asfollows:-
Lieuts H.P. MacGregor, J. W. Lester, D.A. Foineu and P.O. Hawkins, Missing
Lieut J. W. Griffiths - Died of wounds
Capt B. Simpson, Capt H.H. Patch and Lieuts G.H.H. Eadie and G.S. McLennan - Wounded. 26 other ranks killed, 99 other ranks wounded, 27 other ranks missing.
Total Casualties 161

As a result of the operation two Officers were recommended for the D.S.O., four Officers for the M.C., four OR 'sfor the D.C.M. and twelve OR 'sfor the MM.

March 2nd. During the night a number of parties were sent out into 'NO MAN'S LAND1 to bring in the dead and wounded, and a number of bodies were recovered, these were all sent out and buried in FILLERS au BOIS Cemetery.

Corporal Herbert William Christmas's body was also recovered and he was buried in the newly created cemetery at Givenchy-en Gohelle Canadian Cemetery.

The Major of the Battalion, Major J. Mackintosh Bell wrote the following to his parents:

'My Dear Mrs Christmas - It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you of your dear son's death, he took part in a big raid on the German trenches on the morning of March 1 and fell bravely fighting. I cannot tell you how sorry I am that this splendid soldier and magnificent man should have perished and I need hardly tell you how deep is my sympathy for you in your irreparable loss. Corpl. Christmas was particularly popular among us all, and his death will form a gap which will by quite impossible to fill. There is little more I can say in conveying this sad intelligence to you more than hope that God will comfort you in your very great affliction.'

Herbert William Christmas's grave in
Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery, Souchez, France

Soon after the war, Corporal Christmas's parents moved to Burton House, West Mersea. Their other son Frederick also moved to Mersea and became well known later when he ran the laundry on the island. Frederick had been in the London Yeomanry in WW1 and had married Sybil Culpin in 1917. They had a son Alfred Herbert Christmas who was killed in WW2 when HMS CANDYTUFT had a boiler explosion. See WW2_AHC .

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Department of Veteran's Affairs, Canada
Essex County Standard
73rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment) War Diary, PRO Kew, RefWO95/3908

AuthorRoger Bullen / Tony Millatt
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery, Souchez. France
 Corporal Herbert William Christmas from Great Wigborough was killed 1 March 1917 and is buried in the cemetery. He was serving with the Canadian Infantry.  WW1_CHR_011
ImageID:   WW1_CHR_011
Title: Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery, Souchez. France
Corporal Herbert William Christmas from Great Wigborough was killed 1 March 1917 and is buried in the cemetery. He was serving with the Canadian Infantry.
Source:Mersea Museum / Roger Bullen Collection
 Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery, Souchez. France
 Corporal Herbert William Christmas from Great Wigborough was killed 1 March 1917 and is buried in the cemetery.  WW1_CHR_013
ImageID:   WW1_CHR_013
Title: Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery, Souchez. France
Corporal Herbert William Christmas from Great Wigborough was killed 1 March 1917 and is buried in the cemetery.
Source:Mersea Museum / Roger Bullen Collection