Memories of sharing Christmas with the Hun

A HARTLEPOOL pensioner has proudly recalled the tales of her father who fought in the First World War trenches.

Ethel Garbutt, 92, from Seaton Carew, remembers the stories her father John William Head Burns – known as Jack – who lived through the horrors the Battle of The Somme with the Northumberland Fusiliers.

And one particular tale, told to her and her siblings when she was a mere girl of six, has stuck in her memory for more than 85 years.

She said: “When we were kids, my dad used to tell us about the Germans and what happened on Christmas Eve.

“The Germans started singing songs and the British started singing theirs back. They went over the top and the Germans met them.

“They exchanged things as gifts. My dad smoked a pipe and they exchanged smokes.”

Rounds of Christmas songs then came from the two sides. They sang hymns and shared stories with the enemy.

Ethel added: “When it came to midnight, all the soldiers said goodbye to each other and the next day, they went back to firing guns at each other.”

There was a sombre moment during the brief respite from the horrors of war. The British troops were so sure they would die, they shared a heartbreaking message with their foe.

“The British soldiers told the Germans, ‘goodbye lads. This will be our last Christmas’.

“And then everyone went back down into the trenches to continue the war,” said Ethel.

Tearful Ethel recalled: “I had the best parents in the world. My dad was one of the lucky ones who came home and he told us wonderful stories”.

Ethel used to run the Princess Helena pub, in Hartlepool, with her husband Tom Garbutt. He died in 1979 aged 56.

They had two children, a daughter, Grete Tempest, now 70, and living in Copenhagen, and a son, Dennis, who died aged 32 in 1985 in an accident. Ethel’s parents were Jack, who hailed originally from Jarrow, and Mary Ann Hutchison, from Hebburn.

They had seven children with Ethel the youngest. Jack began working in the docks before he joined the Fusiliers.

It was a filthy war. There was mud and deep water everywhere and Jack contracted Bright’s Disease which caused his legs to repeatedly swell up and become blotchy.

He came home and later signed for the Durham Light Infantry. Finally, before the war was out, he swapped again and this time joined the Royal Flying Corps. After three years and 29 days of service, he came home to his Jarrow family.

John died aged 72 on January 22, 1940.

Ethel, now a grandmother of three and great grandmother of three herself, said: “I had the best parents ever. They had seven children and I am the only one left now and it would be nice for his name to be mentioned for what he did.”

We are happy to oblige Ethel.