Festive letters of thanks

By Elena Leyshon, Graduate Trainee Archivist

This Christmas time we are looking back to another unprecedented moment in our country’s history, to discover how one small community in Yorkshire, overcame adversity to ensure no one was forgotten at Christmas.  

After famously being promised that they’d be home by Christmas 1914, for allied forces fighting in the trenches during World War One, Christmas 1915 still at war was one too many. To help ease the hardship of another year of war, the market town of Settle in Craven, formed a war relief committee to send parcels to the men and women who wouldn’t be home for Christmas.

Here at the North Yorkshire County Record Office, we hold records from the Settle and District War Relief Committee within collection DC-SET, which detail how the committee organised and funded the Christmas present appeal.

The image below shows a letter dated 27 November 1915. This was sent by the committee to residents across Settle and the wider district, so their loved one could receive a parcel. They asked for the name and unit of the soldier or nurse, their service number, and their current address or where they would be at Christmas.

DC/SET Letter requesting details of soldiers to receive a Christmas parcel

The relatives or friends of soldiers away from home responded to these letters, some examples of which are shown below.

The committee then complied the addresses into lists of soldiers who were abroad, or those who were local or still in Britain. The images below show some of these lists.

In order to fund the Christmas presents scheme, the committee asked local businesses, institutions and residents to donate to the fund. The letter below is from the Settle amateur dramatic society, stating that although they still had outstanding bills for the year, they would donate £5 to the fund; and if they were unable to afford it, the members of the society would make up the amount between themselves. This highlights the generosity and community spirit of the town during this time.

DC/SET Letter from Mrs Mary Benson’s Company of Amateur Players

The list below mentions some of the other donors who contributed to the 1915 Christmas parcels scheme, and shows that not all donated money; some gave gifts such as cake, tobacco and woollen goods.

DC/SET Christmas parcels donor list

The Settle and District War Relief Committee continued the Christmas parcels appeal for three years until Christmas 1918. Although the First World War officially ended in November 1918, many soldiers were still away from home for Christmas 1918. Over the years, the committee received letters of thanks from soldiers from across the world, from as far as Syria and India, thanking them for their Christmas parcel. Some poignant examples, including transcripts can be seen below.

This year some of us will be unable to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones; but the story of the Settle Christmas parcels shows how small community acts of kindness can still spread joy and festivity at this special time of year.

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