UNLOCKING THE PAST: An insight into Christmas in 1917

UPBEAT: 'From the Australian Front: Christmas 1917' was published for a home-front audience during World War I, featuring cartoons, illustrations and photographs.

UPBEAT: 'From the Australian Front: Christmas 1917' was published for a home-front audience during World War I, featuring cartoons, illustrations and photographs.

One hundred years ago the local Cessnock community faced a Christmas overshadowed by World War I.

It was the fourth year of the war and for Australia it proved to be the costliest in terms of human lives lost.

On the Western Front military gains were small, losses were heavy and the Allies constant hope all year that victory was near had been continuously dashed.

The public enthusiasm which greeted the outbreak of war had waned, as the grim reality of rising casualties and deaths hit home.

Everyone, it seemed, had a family member, friend or neighbour affected by the mounting toll, bringing Australians face-to-face with the seriousness of the conflict.

Harold James Slack

Harold James Slack

In this environment, From the Australian Front: Christmas 1917 was published for a home-front audience, partially to reassure the public that the boys were OK boys like Harry Slack, of Wollombi (pictured).

It is an upbeat book of cartoons, illustrations and photographs created by the soldiers themselves and put together in the style of an annual.

In the introduction General Birdwood, Commander of the ANZACS, explained it was for those whom we left behind in Australia, and who we know are thinking of us, some idea of our surroundings on the battle fronts.

But 1917 also saw two crucial military events which profoundly affected the course of the war and so began its end America joined the Allied cause and Russias involvement in the war declined.

Sunnier days were ahead, even if this was unknown at the time, and this would, in fact, be the last year that Cessnocks Christmas celebrations were held under the grim cloud of World War I.

Maybe this uniquely Australian Christmas slice was on the table one hundred years ago? Its lovely and cool, perfect for a hot Chrissie day. It comes from the Kurri Kurri 75th Anniversary 1904-1979 Cook Book and its called Lizzies White Christmas.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup of icing sugar
  • 1 cup of coconut
  • 2 cups Kelloggs Rice Bubbles
  • 1 cup Sunshine powdered milk
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • 1 packet salted peanuts
  • 125 grams of glacé cherries cut into pieces
  • 250 grams of melted copha

METHOD

Mix all dry ingredients. Stir in melted copha and mix well. Place in shallow tin lined with foil and leave in the fridge to set.

Kimberly O’Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock City Library

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