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War Christmas, Carols at Night

Associated Press

This story appeared in The Spokesman-Review on Jan. 3, 1915

HEADQUARTERS OF THE TENTH GERMAN INFANTRY DIVISION ON THE RAWKA RIVER, POLAND, Dec. 26, via courier to Berlin, thence to London, Jan. 3, 12:55 a.m. – “Artillery preliminaries for a general infantry attack will begin at noon: infantry attack begins at 2 o’clock.” This was the Christmas Day order telephoned and signaled to the German army on the Rawka yesterday morning.

The thunder of a heavy cannonade and the rattle of infantry fire was heard along the whole line during the short Christmas afternoon. The attack resulted in a slight advance of the Tenth infantry. At one point a brigade was thrown across the swampy ground and succeeded in gaining a foothold on the other side.

Swamps impede progress

But the progress was slow against the triple row of Russian trenches on the hills and in the woods on the east bank of the Rawka, which position is protected by a broad belt of swamps in which the Germans can not entrench, as the trenches fill immediately with water.

The short winter days and the fogs hanging constantly over the valley give the German artillery only an hour or two daily in which to cover the German advance by an effective bombardment. A few days of hard frost and clear, cold weather would make the task easier, but the winter in Poland so far has been exceedingly mild. There is no snow on the ground and thaws keep the ground marshy, converting into quagmires the roads over which ammunition supplies must be transported. Under such circumstances only slow headway can be expected in a frontal attack against the present Russian positions.

Aviators give the ranges

A few hours of sunshine yesterday gave the German aviators their first opportunity in a week to reconnoiter the Russian lines. One of the aviators reported that long wagon trains were parked in the road through the forest near the Russian lines. This information was conveyed to the German artillery and a surprise was arranged for the Russians. At a given signal several heavy batteries opened fire on the road.

The effect could not be determined definitely, as the fog again settled before the aviator could reascend. The batteries had the exact range, however, and the havoc cause was presumed to have been great. But little was heard during the day from the Russian artillery, which is believed to be short of ammunition on this section of the front.

Although Christmas was a day of battle for the Germans, Christmas Eve, which to the Germans is the most important part of the Yuletide, was comparatively quiet. A Russian message had announced a general attack along the whole line for the evening when the Germans were celebrating. The Russian attack, however, developed in force only at one point – against the German army corps to the south of this place, where the Russians launched a heavy infantry attack, well supported by artillery. They were beaten off and lost heavily, particularly in prisoners.

Christmas in home fashion

Elsewhere along the line the German soldiers celebrated Christmas as nearly as possible in home fashion. There was scarcely a shelter hut in the trenches and artillery positions which did not display a Christmas tree, decorated with tinsel and gay colored candles that had been reposing in the soldiers’ knapsacks for many weeks. The correspondent, riding along the lines, saw scores of such trees exhibited by the proud soldiers.

Most of the Christmas packages from home failed to arrive, having been delayed by the miserable roads and rapid movements of the army. But food tidbits, bottles of wine, nips of rum and arrack, carefully preserved for the celebration, came to light and helped to give the real Christmas feeling.

The cannonade on this part of the front ceased almost entirely at dusk. Far and near could be heard the rough soldier voices in the Christmas anthem, “Holy Night, Peaceful Night.” Christmas carols were heard from the Russian lines, too, at one point, probably from the Polish soldiers, as the Russian Christmas is 13 days later.

Tree at staff quarters

At the division staff quarters a large tree was set up in the dining room of a country house. The division commander made a brief address to his staff and simple presents, which had been collected with difficulty, were distributed to the enlisted men.

Note: The rest of the story reported on specific troop actions and skirmishes.
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