A 'GREAT SORROW' hung over Craven 100 years ago as the second year of the First World War drew to an end.

Christmas 1914 had been marked by a series of cease fires in the trenches, but a year later, there was a marked difference in the attitudes of the Craven soldiers in their letters home.

Gone was the respect for the German soldiers, to be replaced with a great weariness of the appalling weather conditions, of trenches waist high in water and of roads of liquid mud.

They were, however, full of appreciation for the Christmas parcels sent from the various church and community organisations.

The Craven Herald reported that there would be few complete families celebrating Christmas. Skipton had assumed an air of festivity that was perhaps more superficial than real. Shopkeepers had put on an attractive display and despite hard times and 'slender purses' there appeared to be no lack of customers.

Christmastide in Skipton was somewhat boosted by the surprise visit of 800 kilted soldiers of the Royal Highlanders Black Watch, in addition to many from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment at home on leave from France.

Christmas Day itself in Craven passed very quietly, with an entire absence of public festivity. The annual treat to 'poor children' did not take place and there were no football matches - most of the players being away fighting the war. On Christmas Sunday, the Black Watch made a fine show as they marched up the High Street accompanied by pipers to attend divine service at the Congregational Chapel.

Christmas parcels sent out to the front from Silsden contained a tin of biscuits, which had bought out of the parish church choir fund, instead of its usual purpose, the annual choir trip.

The Rev Charles Gee, formerly pastor of the Silsden Wesleyan Church and who had enlisted as an army chaplain soon after the outbreak of the war, in a letter home from France, gave grateful thanks for the parcel, and hoped he would soon be home.

"Will you be good enough to convey to your committee of the St John Ambulance War Fund my warmest thanks for the parcel," he wrote.

"It is very pleasing for us out here to know that we are not forgotten. I took one of the cakes to our officers mess and if you could have heard the praise expressed of Yorkshire baking, you would have been delighted."

He went on to describe the appalling conditions of winter in France.

"Just at present, the conditions here are not very inviting. Rain is falling almost every day and many of the roads are covered with liquid mud and many of the trenches are waist deep in water.

"It is most surprising that the health of the men continues so good. There are rumours that we may be able to obtain leave soon, so if possible I want to be home for the first Sunday in January when I shall have the pleasure of seeing Silsden and its people again"

Driver, S Wigglesworth, of headquarters Transport Section, was also very grateful for his parcel.

"I can assure you that such welcome gifts from home assist greatly in lightening the hardships we are doing our best to bear, and also remind us that there are kind hearts at home who are taking their part in this terrible war by providing comforts for those who are out here," he wrote home.

"I am sure you must be devoting much time and welfare and I take this opportunity of sending you and your committee Christmas greetings and a prosperous New Year."

He added: "No doubt you are better posted with news from the Front than we are, as we only see what is going on in the area which we are allotted to hold. The weather out there is wretched at present; the roads are in a shocking state and we are up to our knees in mud wherever we go."

Corporal T Summerscales, writing from the trenches in Flanders, said never was a parcel more appreciated.

"I received it just as we were moving up the trenches, so I took it with me. The contents were thoroughly enjoyed by myself and several other members of our platoon," he wrote.

"Half a dozen of us were sheltering under waterproof sheets as there are no dug outs on this part of the line. If you could have seen their faces when I fished out the parcel I am sure everyone would have considered themselves well paid. I thank all inhabitants of Silsden."

Private L Galvin, another recipient of a Silsden parcel, wrote: "I was longing for a cigarette when the parcel came. The candles are an excellent thing to send to men out here. And I might say the same about the Oxo. Tomorrow, I go to the firing line, which is only 15 yards from the Germans. The last time our men were there, they were up to their waists in water. A few of our men got trench foot. We rub our feet with animal fat before going into the trenches."

Thomas O'Toole, describing Christmas Day in the army, referred to the frontline ceasefires of 1914 and doubted whether they would be repeated in 1915.

Christmas Day in the trenches would not go unnoticed, because of the generosity of the people at home, he wrote.

He also believed most would probably face nothing more deadly on Christmas Day than a bombardment of messages from home.

Most company commanding officers were reasonable at Christmas and took a more leisurely approach.

Meanwhile, inmates at the Skipton Workhouse were given extra food on Christmas Day. Breakfast consisted of bread, butter and bacon, while dinner was pork, beef and plum pudding to follow. The inmates were joined for Christmas dinner by clerk to the guardians, Mr M R Knowles, although the chairman, Mr J A Slingsby was unable to attend due to the funeral of a fellow member of the board. In the evening, there was a concert in the dining hall, which was also attended by some of those in the infirmary, including some who had to be brought down in chairs. Inmates were also entertained with singing from Otley Street Baptist Church Sunday School children, and saw Robinson Crusoe at the Gem Picture Palace.