Another view of the old abandoned Church of Dunlewey beside the Poisoned Glen, Donegal.
In the graveyard there lies the body of a man who was in a mixed marriage (he was Church of Ireland, she was Catholic). He died first and is buried in the grounds of this church but she, being a Catholic, did not want to be buried there. She is buried in the Catholic church across the valley, the Church of the Sacred Heart. However, even in death she wanted to remember her husband and her grave in the Catholic graveyard faces across the valley to her husband’s resting place. All the other graves in that graveyard face in the opposite direction.
Christmas day dawned with the hopes of many on both sides that there would be a repeat of the Christmas truce from one year before. Some did their best to bring one about. Welsh soldier Llewelyn Wyn Griffith recorded a night of Christmas carols sung between both sides on No Man’s Land. On Christmas morning, there was a “rush of men from both sides … [and] a feverish exchange of souvenirs”. However, officers from each army swiftly recalled their men. Offers of a daylong ceasefire came to nothing, as the officers threatened to punish lack of discipline and ordered immediate resumption of firing in the afternoon.
Bertie Felstead, a Londoner in the same battalion, briefly took part in a football scrimmage, less match than “a free-for-all; there could have been 50 on each side”, before the footballers too were ordered back. In some areas of the front manned by the French, soldiers tossed souvenirs back and forth and refrained from shooting, but this stemmed less from Christmas cheer than from a routine of “live-and-let-live” that existed on many sections of the front line. Most other attempts to recreate the year before failed. Sir Iain Colquhoun, a Scots Guards officer, allowed a short truce so that both sides could bury their dead in No Man’s Land. However, Colquhoun was court-martialed for this breach of discipline. Haig pardoned the officer, though more likely because he was related to the Prime Minister than out of altruism.
On the rest of the Western Front Christmas day was no different than the days before. In fact, it was perhaps worse, because standing orders from British Headquarters insisted on constant barrages of fire throughout the day to put an end to unofficial truces. “We hailed the smiling morn with five rounds fired fast, and we kept up a slow fire all day,” noted Corporal D.A. Pankhurst of the Royal Artillery. “Those were our orders. Some batteries sent over over as many as three hundred shells. It was a Christmas present to Fritz, they said. But I do believe myself that it was intended to discourage fraternising.”
Shelling and shooting continued all day. Though some German plays in the 1930s would accuse the British of being the only ones to breach truces, neither side relented and German soldiers too received orders to open fire. Second Lieutenant W. Cushing witnessed a private in his battalion killed by German artillery when his femoral artery was severed by a piece of shrapnel. “Stretcher-bearers attempted to deal with this mortal wound by using a tourniquet, but this caused the poor chap pain, and the MO told us on the field telephone to remove it and let him die in peace.” The Medical Officer himself had almost risked his life by “coming to us across the open - there were no communication trenches left - but the CO ordered him to stay where he was at battalion HQ. It was just as well. We couldn’t afford to lose a Medical Officer in a fruitless effort to save life. He couldn’t possibly have arrived in time.” Thus died Private W.G. Wilkerson on Christmas Day.
Wilkerson is buried in an unknown location in New Irish Farm Cemetery at St. Jan, near Ypres, alongside 45,000 other dead. At Gallipoli, the troops at Cape Helles, the only ones still to be evacuated in the coming weeks, endured Turkish shelling and sniper fire. A number died, including Captain Arnold Thomas a twenty-nine year old officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps who had graduated from New College, Oxford, eight months prior.