December 25

Rained all night; very muddy; working hard to finish my house by to-morrow night; had 10.30 o'clock a. m. Company inspection; various rumors about General Sherman; news good from General Thomas; good regimental dress parade this evening.

December Twenty-Fifth

To the cradle-bough of a naked tree,
Benumbed with ice and snow,
A Christmas dream brought suddenly
A birth of mistletoe.

The shepherd stars from their fleecy cloud
Strode out on the night to see;
The Herod north-wind blustered loud
To rend it from the tree.

But the old year took it for a sign,
And blessed it in his heart:
“With prophecy of peace divine,
Let now my soul depart.”
John B. Tabb
(Mistletoe )

 

 

December 25, 1863

Friday. Christmas, and I forgot to hang up my stocking. After getting something to eat, we took stock of our eatables and of our pocket-books, and found we could afford a few things we lacked. Gorton said he would invite his horse-jockey friend, James Buchanan, not the ex-president, but a little bit of a man, who rode the races for a living. So taking Tony with me I went up to a nearby market, and bought some oysters, and some steak. This with what we had on hand made us a feast such as we had often wished for in vain. Buchanan came, with his saddle in his coat pocket, for he was due at the track in the afternoon. George and Henry outdid themselves in cooking, and we certainly had a feast. There was not much style about it, but it was satisfying. We had overestimated our capacity, and had enough left for the cooks and drummer boys. Buchanan went to the races, Gorton and I went to sleep, and so passed my second Christmas in Dixie. At night the regiment came back, hungry as wolves. The officers mostly went out for a supper but Gorton and I had little use for supper. We had just begun to feel comfortable. The regiment had no adventures and saw no enemy. They stopped at Baton Rouge and gave the 128th a surprise. Found them well and hearty, and had a real good visit. I was dreadfully sorry I had missed that treat. I would rather have missed my Christmas dinner. They report that Colonel Smith and Adjutant Wilkinson have resigned, to go into the cotton and sugar speculation. The 128th is having a free and easy time, and according to what I am told, discipline is rather slack. But the stuff is in them, and if called on, every man will be found ready for duty. The loose discipline comes of having nothing to do. I don't blame them for having their fun while they can, for there is no telling when they will have the other thing.

Xmas Day, 11 a.m.—On way up again to Béthune, where we have not been before (about ten miles beyond where we were yesterday), a place I've always hoped to see. Sharp white frost, fog becoming denser as we get nearer Belgium. A howling mob of reinforcements stormed the train for smokes. We threw out every cigarette, pipe, pair of socks, mits, hankies, pencils we had left; it was like feeding chickens, but of course we hadn't nearly enough.

Every one on the train has had a card from the King and Queen in a special envelope with the Royal Arms in red on it. And this is the message (in writing hand)—

"With our best wishes for Christmas, 1914.

May God protect you and bring you home safe.

Mary R. George R.I."

That is something to keep, isn't it?

An officer has just told us that those men haven't had a cigarette since they left S'hampton, hard luck. I wish we'd had enough for them. It is the smokes and the rum ration that has helped the British Army to stick it more than anything, after the conviction that they've each one got that the Germans have got to be "done in" in the end. A Sergt. of the C.G. told me a cheering thing yesterday. He said he had a draft of young soldiers of only four months' service in this week's business. "Talk of old soldiers," he said, "you'd have thought these had had years of it. When they were ordered to advance there was no stopping them."

After all we are not going to Béthune but to Merville again.

This is a very slow journey up, with long indefinite stops; we all got bad headaches by lunch time from the intense cold and a short night following a heavy day. At lunch we had hot bricks for our feet, and hot food inside, which improved matters, and I think by the time we get the patients on there will be chauffage.

The orderlies are to have their Xmas dinner to-morrow, but I believe ours is to be to-night, if the patients are settled up in time.

Do not think from these details that we are at all miserable; we say "For King and Country" at intervals, and have many jokes over it all, and there is the never-failing game of going over what we'll all do and avoid doing After the War.

p.m.—Loaded up at Merville and now on the way back; not many badly wounded but a great many minor medicals, crocked up, nothing much to be done for them. We may have to fill up at Hazebrouck, which will interrupt the very festive Xmas dinner the French Staff are getting ready for us. It takes a man, French or British, to take decorating really seriously. The orderlies have done wonders with theirs. Aeroplanes done in cotton-wool on brown blankets is one feature.

This lot of patients had Xmas dinner in their Clearing Hospitals to-day, and the King's Xmas card, and they will get Princess Mary's present. Here they finished up D.'s Xmas cards and had oranges and bananas, and hot chicken broth directly they got in.

12 Midnight.—Still on the road. We had a very festive Xmas dinner, going to the wards which were in charge of nursing orderlies between the courses. Soup, turkey, peas, mince pie, plum pudding, chocolate, champagne, absinthe, and coffee. Absinthe is delicious, like squills. We had many toasts in French and English. The King, the President, Absent Friends, Soldiers and Sailors, and I had the Blessés  and the Malades. We got up and clinked glasses with the French Staff at every toast, and finally the little chef came in and sang to us in a very sweet musical tenor. Our great anxiety is to get as many orderlies and N.C.O.'s as possible through the day without being run in for drunk, but it is an uphill job; I don't know where they get it.

We are wondering what the chances are of getting to bed to-night.

a.m.—Very late getting in to B.; not unloading till morning. Just going to turn in now till breakfast time. End of Xmas Day.

Cuttack, December 25, 1843

Yesterday morning Captain W. sent to ask me whether I would go out into the jungle with him and try and get some hares. I did not feel much inclined, as my yearly supply of stores, such as wine, beer, candles, vinegar, &c. &c., had just arrived from Calcutta. However I thought that perhaps I should see something which might amuse me, so I went. At three we started on our ponies across the tedious sands to the river. The water we crossed in a boat, and then remounted and rode for some distance into the jungle: at last down we got. We had fourteen men with us to beat the jungle.

CHOUDWAR.

We walked along through the wildest scenery, looking for hares, until we arrived at Choudwar—at least that I believe to be the name of the place I described once before, which I said reminded me much of the ancient Petra. There are several long deep ravines filled with dense jungle, the sides composed of perpendicular black rock, a sort of iron-stone, in some parts of which steps have been cut, and in other places great blocks are lying about irregularly, or forming the foundations of the houses of the ancient inhabitants.

We had found no game of any sort except porcupines, which abound here. At last we came to a ravine of the shape of an acute triangle. The lower line was a perpendicular face of rock of perhaps forty feet in height, the other line was a steep slope, and all the hollow was filled with thick jungle. Captain W. and myself were standing about the middle of the lower line, and we ordered the men that were with us to go down and beat the bushes in the hollow.

SPORTING.

As they went down I observed to Captain W. that I thought it looked a likely place for something rather larger than hares. He replied that the men said there were no wild beasts about here. He had hardly done speaking when we heard the most frightful snarling growl proceeding from the bushes down at the farther point of the angle. "A tiger!" screamed the men, and ran off in every direction as fast as they could. "Give us the guns with ball," shouted we; for those in our hands had only small shot, and the men behind us held our other guns. "It is a great hyæna!" shouted I, as with another growl an enormous one sneaked out of the bushes up the bank opposite to that on which we stood. Bang! went the Captain's gun and mine at the same time;—down fell the brute, up again, turned round, yelled, and screamed, inclined to make a rush at us. Bang! bang! again with the other barrels, and with a scream the animal bounded off on three legs, his hind thigh having been broken by one of our balls. "Powder! powder, quickly!" was the cry, and our men handed us the powder and balls: we reloaded as quickly as possible, our hands trembling with excitement.

"Give chase!" I shouted, and off we set as hard as we could run towards the other bank, where the beast was still running, and turning every now and then to snarl at us. "Coolies, drive him hither!" cried Captain W., and on we bounded; but the coolies were not at all willing to obey the command, and so we had a long chase. "I'll fire; you mind him if he turns," exclaimed W. Bang! A yell from the hyæna; and down he rushes towards me. Bang! he's down—no—up again. Another shot from Captain W., and over he tumbles and is dead in a few minutes.

The excitement of such a chase is very great. I was hot and tired, and also fat; but when I saw the enormous brute all was forgotten, and I leaped down the rocks, scrambled up the hills, and bounded over the bushes, as if I had been a boy.

The hyæna is a cowardly animal, although he has immense strength both of jaw and paw. Had this been a tiger, he would at the first wound have flown at us, and perhaps killed us before we had time to load again; but the hyæna rarely turns upon the hunters unless he sees that all escape is hopeless. I had no idea that these animals were so large. This was little if at all less than a full-grown tiger. He did not spring out like the latter would have done, but sneaked along as if he thought his horrid ugliness would protect him.

As we were coming home over the sands, I asked Captain W. if he did not mean to discharge his gun before he went in. "Yes," said he, "and there is a target," pointing to a large black pariah dog, which was feasting on some rotten carrion at a considerable distance. We dismounted, took our guns, and Captain W. fired. The ball struck the sand between the animal's legs, and he stared round him as if to know what it meant. Captain W.'s next shot struck the sand close to the dog's nose. Off he started, when I raised my gun and fired, and he rolled over dead. This was a useless piece of cruelty; the killing the hyæna was right, because these animals do much mischief among the cattle, and will also carry away young children; but the dogs are in a great measure our scavengers, and carry off all sorts of filth.

The only other things we fired at were some jackals and a white-headed falcon. The former we missed; the latter I killed. The miner is a pretty bird, of which I have before spoken. I consider it good eating, although most persons have a prejudice against it, as not being a very clean feeder. They fly in large flocks. The other day, with a small charge of shot, I killed five at once. The parrots are very destructive to the fruit, especially the custard-apple; I therefore frequently shoot them in my own garden.