First World War soldier’s embroidered Christmas cards donated to the DLI Collection

A soldier’s heart-breaking First World War Christmas message has been donated to the Durham Light Infantry Collection.

Miner Andrew Miller enlisted in the DLI in 1915 and for over two and a half years sent home postcards to his wife Ellen, and children James and Isabel, in Gateshead.

Now, a century on, friends of the family have donated the delicately embroidered correspondence, with volunteers at Sevenhills in Spennymoor researching what happened to the 5ft 4.5in private, and why the cards suddenly stopped.

In a card dated Christmas Eve 1915, the grey eyed, dark brown haired soldier tells his daughter that he hopes Santa Claus “will bring you a nice big doll and cradle”

“I will bid you bonjour,” he wrote. “I hope you will be a good little girl for your mummy until Daddy comes home.”

Unfortunately he never did.

Durham County Council’s principal museums and collections manager Charlotte Barron said: “Andrew was born in Felling – which was then part of County Durham – in 1882 and became a miner in the local pit.

“He enlisted in the army aged 32, leaving behind his wife and two children in Gateshead’s Cramer Street and joining the 4 DLI reserve stationed at Forest Hall.

“He then moved to 10 DLI and sailed with the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France a week before Christmas 1915, and by 1918 he was fighting with 5 DLI.

“During his service he sent beautifully embroidered cards home to his wife and his children, who he affectionately named his “little pets.”

“None of the cards mention any specific details of what the First World War was really like as censors removed any mention of operational details that might have proven of value to the enemy. Instead they speak of birthdays – including Ella’s on December 19 – and Christmases, and how one day soon Andrew will return from “somewhere in France” and they will meet again.”

However, following a last message dated December 1917 the cards suddenly stop – and it would be many months before the Miller family knew the fate of their beloved husband and father.

DLI Collection volunteer Peter Nelson carried out research into the cards and found out what happened to the 36-year-old.

“It was some time before the family found out that their beloved husband and father was no longer missing, and that he had lost his life during a German attack on May 27 1918 that claimed the lives of almost 700 DLI soldiers” he said.

A report by 5 DLI’s Major A L Raimes reveals that: “On the 27th day of May the German artillery spoke with a mighty and awful voice’ during an event in which casualties of the 5th DLI were 24 officers and 650 men.”

In later life Ellen and Isabel moved to the south of England, where they were cared for by neighbour Barbara Angell and her daughter Josephine.

Josephine received the cards upon Isabel’s death, and she has now given them to the DLI Collection.

The post cards will be passed to Durham County Records Office in the coming months, where they will join the rest of the DLI Collection archives.