Although it only occurred along a relatively small section of the Western Front, the Christmas truce of 1914 has passed into history as an oasis of humanity in a desert of killing and bitterness.
It was repeated on a much reduced scale in 1915 but by then the participants had hardened to the fact that it was going to be a long war.
One man who tried to bring some normality to the lives of the troops behind the lines was army chaplain the Reverend Phillip Byard (Tubby) Clayton. In 1915 he was sent to France and then on to the town of Poperinghe in Belgium. Sitting a few miles back from the trenches around Ypres (nowadays known by its Flemish name Ieper), Pops, as the soldiers called it, was a busy transfer station where troops on their way to and from the battlefields of Flanders were billeted. Clayton, universally known as Tubby, was instructed by his senior chaplain, Neville Talbot, to set up some sort of rest house for the troops.
He rented a hop merchant’s house, to use as his base. Tubby decided to steer away from the traditional church club and set up an Everyman’s House. It was named Talbot House in honour of Gilbert Talbot (Neville’s brother) who had been killed earlier in the year. Talbot House soon became known by its initials TH, and then, in the radio signallers’ parlance of the day as Toc H. It opened on 11 December 1915.
On the 19 December, men of the 1st/5th Battalion Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment (the “Green Howards”) arrived by train in Poperinghe from Bailleul. They would not have had time to visit the newly opened Talbot House as they were marched to Dickebusch and then on to the front at Railway Dugouts on 20 December. They would spend Christmas in the nearby front line trenches of the Ypres Salient.
Soldiers in front-line trenches suffered from enemy snipers. These men were usually specially trained marksmen that had rifles with telescopic sights. German snipers did not normally work from their own trenches. The main strategy was to creep out at dawn into no-man’s land and remain there all day. Wearing camouflaged clothing and using the any available cover, they waited for a British soldier to pop his head above the parapet before killing him with lethal accuracy.
George Jefferson Scott was born in Market Weighton in 1874, his parents George and Victoria Scott lived at Market Place and he was baptised on 20 February. He was a pupil of St Peter’s School, York, before working for Barclays Bank after leaving school. He became the manager of the bank’s Pocklington branch, as well as a director of the Market Weighton Gas Light and Coke Company. In 1911 he married and over the next few years he and his wife had two children. Captain Scott was the commanding officer of the Pocklington Troop of the Yorkshire Regiment Territorials and they volunteered for overseas service as soon as war was declared. He was with the 5th battalion at its HQ in Scarborough when they were mobilized at 6pm on 4 August 1914. They travelled to France on 17 April 1915, with Captain Scott joining them later in the year. After a month’s rest from front-line duty the battalion travelled by that train to Poperinghe.
Captain George Jefferson Scott did return to Poperinghe, not to visit Talbot House but to be buried in Poperinghe New Military Cemetery. He had been killed by a sniper’s bullet through the heart on Christmas Day 1915. After his death the Green Howards Gazette wrote of him, “Our loss is great. Several of us have lost a personal and sterling friend and the battalion one of its most popular and experienced officers. All he has done for the Volunteer Force in general and the battalion in particular will never be known for he invariably did things and said little.”
l With thanks to Toc-H, the Green Howards museum, Chris Baker’s The Long, Long Trail website, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Pocklington and District Local History Group’s ‘Fallen Heroes’ exhibition of autumn 2014.
If anyone has any information or stories about the men on Market Weighton War Memorial that you are happy to share, contact Steve Marsdin at The Mortgage Advice Centre/Yorkshire Building Society agency on Market Weighton High Street or on 01430 871112.