My grandfather was around nineteen years old when he sent this card home from the trenches during the First World War. He was in France serving as a Private with 7th Battalion, the London Regiment (the battalion was known as The Shiny Seventh because of their cap badge, a flaming grenade in brass with the number 7 picked out in silver). The Shiny Seventh were part of the 140th (4th London) Brigade, and this seems to be the offical brigade Christmas card. The image is in two parts. To the left we see the Brigade on a troop train, labelled 1917, heading up the line to the front. To the right we see a steam engine with 1918 painted on its tender, bringing the men home to London where a massed crowd of friends and family wait to greet them. This is clearly the "Wish for the New Year" referred to in the card's text. It would seem to be a remarkably honest reflection of what was surely the main hope of the men of the Brigade, simply to return home in the coming new year, with the war over and done. Whether this wish has the war end in an allied victory or not isn't made clear. Perhaps by the December of 1917 and the last Christmas of the war, all anyone wanted was for the fighting to be over.
My grandfather would have been under no illusions as to what faced him at the frontline. One of his brothers had been killed earlier in the war. On the back of the card, with touching formality, he has written, "With the compliments of the season. To all at Home." This is followed by the date (15th December 1917), a curly-lettered signature, and then, in brackets, "Hoping to be with you." Considering the context in which it was written, this on the face of it rather bland phrase here feels heartfelt and deeply poignant in its understatment.
My grandfather did return to England in 1918, but only after he was seriously wounded in the fighting. He remained in hospital for the rest of the war and was still barely convalescent more than a year after the armistice. He bore the scars from those injuries for the rest of his life. And like many men of his generation, he very rarely said anything at all about the war.