CHRISTMAS — traditionally a time of peace, hope and goodwill. But what was the mood of the populace in 1918 just six weeks after Armistice Day?
The Chronicle began its Christmas Eve editorial by lauding "the anniversary of the greatest event in history ... when the angel host filled the air with the natal hymn of the world's redeemer."
But it lamented that the past few Christmas seasons had come under conditions which would never be forgotten.
"In 1914, the prospect of a glad and gracious Christmas was suddenly dashed to the ground by the devil's work and Christmas Day found the people of Europe weltering in blood.
"A glorious page has been written in Britain's book of fame, but with the glory had come the widow's weeds and the cry of the fatherless child.
"In 1918, when the fate of civilisation was never held by such slender threads, the world was looking forward to another dark Christmas.
"But thanks be to God, the clouds suddenly lifted and Christmas now comes to a world from which the horrors of the Great War have been swept away."
The editor considered that thousands in New Zealand would have lighter hearts due to no more fears of "next Spring's offensive", and loved ones returning from the battlefield, although he acknowledged the sadness that would be felt by families throughout the country.
"Many of the bravest and best of our young manhood have paid the supreme sacrifice for the Empire ... and there will be many empty chairs as a result of the pestilence which walked our land during 'Black November'."
He concluded: "Bearing in mind this strange comingling [sic] of joy and sorrow, the good old time-honoured cheerful salutation falters on the tongue, and in its place we echo the hope so fittingly expressed by the poet who wrote:
'Perchance the past years' sadder days,
May help us truer joys to gain,
As fields when parched by summer rays,
Show fresher after rain'."
Meanwhile, there was good news for retailers, according to the Chronicle (December 24), which reported a record influx of visitors to the town for the holidays.
"Big crowds invaded the Avenue and Guyton and Ridgway streets yesterday and the various shops did a roaring trade.
"Money appears to be very plentiful this Yuletide and the prospects of a record return are very bright."
The St John Ambulance Brigade was on duty in the Christ Church schoolroom "to deal with any cases of sudden illness or accident that might possibly occur during the busy and crowded hours of Christmas Eve".
More than 120 children and their families gathered at the rooms of the Aramoho Lodge of Druids to welcome Father Christmas "who had a tree heavily laden with toys".
The jolly man's arrival was heralded by the blowing of a trumpet and a knocking at the door.
After presenting each child with a toy and bag of lollies, he promised a return visit the following year.
Kai Iwi Beach was crowded with many hundreds of people converging there, "making the hills and dales of that delightful haven their camping ground for the day.
"Scores of vehicles, motor and horse, conveyed crowded loads to the beach, and favoured with a beautiful summer's day, the host of holiday-makers spent a very pleasant time indeed."
Of course, the usual acts of kindness took place.
On Christmas Eve an old man "as drunk as a lord", sat on a fence on Taupo Quay.
"In each side pocket of his coat was a bottle of beer. After a time he tried to struggle to his feet, but the footpath was unkind. It went from under him, and he fell with a thud on his back.
"A good Samaritan rushed to his assistance.
"In order to make the task of lifting the man easier he thoughtfully removed one of the bottles of beer and put it in his own pocket.
"Then, lest the old man should be overbalanced by the other bottle, he took possession of that too. Kind soul!"
Merry Christmas from 1918.
Murray Crawford is a Whanganui author with an interest in local history. Newspaper references sourced from Papers Past: National Library of New Zealand.