While most Officers did their best to provide their men with a filling Christmas dinner there was no substitute for family and a home-cooked meal. In this article I’m featuring two letters written by Private Valentine Hitchcock in late November and early December 1918. In 2014 I published a six-part series on Valentine Hitchcock but since that time I’ve obtained over 150 letters written by Valentine to his mother, sister and niece during the First World War.
Valentine wrote both these letters from Witley Camp in Britain shortly after recovering from a shrapnel wound received on September 2nd during the Battle of Drocourt-Queant Line. The first was written on November 27th by which time he knew he would not be home in time for Christmas. While this was a setback it didn’t deter Valentine from cheekily putting in an order for his home-cooked post-war Christmas dinner:
Roast Beef and York. Pudding
or Roast Veal and Dressing
or Roast Mutton and “
Several Kinds of Vegetables
Tomato Ketchup & H.P. Sauce
Mince Pie or several other kinds
To this he added:
“You might also get several pieces of bacon and some eggs also about 1/2 dozen Duck eggs when you know of my arrival”
Valentine’s post-war Christmas dinner took place at 162 Robertson Street in Victoria, B.C. where he lived, both before and after the war, with his mother Ellen and his married sister Margaret and her husband Walter Harlock. The photo of the Harlock’s dining room, likely taken just before the war, includes a framed portrait of Valentine as a Sergeant in the 5th Regiment Canadian Garrison Artillery.
The second letter, dated December 1st, was a tongue-in-cheek affair sent to his two-year old niece and namesake Valentine Harlock. She had just celebrated her second birthday and he hoped “the presents where (sic) costly & numerous“. He wrote that when he returned home he would buy her a dog, adding:
“In the meantime you can think of a name for him. I was in Albert also Regina Trench when I first heard you arrived, but names like that are too classical for the average Dog.”
After describing his plans for leave, including an interesting segment about sandbagged tourist attractions in London, he ends with a request that his niece:
“lay in some Cigarettes for when I get home to go with the J. Walker. The weather is vile at present.”
Although there’s no record of young Valentine receiving a dog we do have this wonderful photo of her with a friend taken shortly after the war. In it she proudly wears her Uncle’s service dress cap (featuring a 11th Canadian Light Trench Mortar Battery cap badge), his military medal, water bottle, puttees and standard-issue fuzzy slippers.