A Christmas Party in Ladysmith
ACCOUNT FROM R L WALLACE’S IMPERIAL LIGHT HORSE: UNPUBLISHED ACCOUNT OF A CHRISTMAS PARTY IN LADYSMITH
Major Karri-Davis gave an account of how the Ladysmith Siege Christmas Tree came about:
Colonel Dartnell and I were discussing how we could give the little ones of Ladysmith, most of whom had been living for the past two months in holes by the river bank, as happy a time as might be possible under the novel circumstances. Owing to the shelling which the town was subject to, it was quite out of the question to gather the young people together during the day time, so we decided that the best thing to do was to have Christmas Tree Party.
We accordingly searched the town and persuaded the proprietors of some of the shops to open up and sell us all sorts of suitable goods to hand on the tree. Then we called in Mr George Tatham who very kindly agreed to lend us his hall, while his wife volunteered to assist in the decoration of the Tree and to look after supper is we could procure the ingredients and materials for the feast. Archdeacon Barker whom we next visited to ensure that our arrangements for a party on Christmas night did not interfere with his arrangements, also volunteered his help, with that of his wife and daughter.
While looking for suitable trees, I found the orthodox English Christmas tree growing side by side with the bluegum of Australia and the mimosa of South Africa. It immediately struck me that Mother Earth’s suggestion was the right one and that since the soldiers of all parts of the Empire were fighting side by side, it would be appropriate to have all parts of the Empire botanically represented by Christmas trees grown on South African soil. With the assistance of the officers and men of the Natal Mounted Police and the Imperial Light Horse, we placed the trees in position in the hall.
Major Doverton arrived and immediately said: “Where’s Canada? She must be represented!” Off he went to return later with a huge Canadian fir tree. Colonel Dartnell and Miss Olive Barker – the daughter of Archdeacon Barker – took charge of the South African tree and the rest of us dressed the other trees. We felt that with the valuable assistance of 120 pounds of sweets, together with mountains of cakes, lemonade and ginger beer, we were ready to welcome as many young guests as Ladysmith could provide. Of course, there were many sick children, but they were not forgotten and presents were put aside for them.
As half past seven the door of the hall was opened. As they entered each child was given as ticket to present at the Tree for gifts. In less that an hour all of the children, about 250, had received three to four presents each. The General and his staff were good enough to come and join in the fun. After refreshments had been served the hall was cleared and dancing was kept up until eleven o’clock, when we all joined in singing “God save the Queen”.