THE CHRISTMAS of a hundred years ago saw Gwent and the rest of the country two years into bloody conflict.

Although the war impinged on the festivities, much stayed the same. MARTIN WADE looks at the Christmas of 1916 through the eyes of the Argus.

AS CHRISTMAS came nearer in 1916, there was hope that perhaps the war could end. "Will Germany yield?" asked a headline in the Argus on December 18. Hopes were high as Christmas approached that perhaps peace was coming. We learnt of the "Peace plotters" being given a "leg-up" by US President Woodrow Wilson.

The German Chancellor Bethmann had previously announced, on December 12, the terms of a German offer of peace. The main stumbling block was Germany’s insistence upon its annexation of Belgium and of the occupied portion of north-eastern France.

On December 18 Wilson had invited both sides to state their “war aims.” The Allies, however, were secretly encouraged by the US secretary of state to offer terms too sweeping for German acceptance. The Germans, suspecting collusion between Wilson and the Allies, agreed in principle to the opening of negotiations but left their statement of December 12 unchanged and privately decided that Wilson should not actually take part in any negotiation that he might bring about.

Although Wilson was serious about peace, no-one else was and sadly his efforts came to nothing.

On the home front, Christmas appeared to carrying on regardless, with perhaps a more militarist slant. Watkins the Newport Novelty Bazaar had everything a child could possible want for Christmas with swords, outfits and most importantly as the ad blared: "GUNS, GUNS, GUNS!!! There were siege guns for 6 1/2 pence, toy naval guns for one shilling and three pence or the more modest water pistol at 6 1/2 pence, of which, they boasted, "we have a fine line".

Other gift ideas under the heading 'Useful Xmas presents' came from Williams and Davies of High Street who were offering Ladies' fur sets at prices up to £3 or a childrens' version for 20 shillings. If you didn't want to clad your child in raccoon skin, you could have a box of handkerchiefs for just over a shilling.

Then as now, there were those who tangled with the law over the festive period. December 27 saw the landlord of the Somerset Inn in Abergavenny in court for "supplying beer during prohibited hours" over Christmas. A Constable Shepstone had the "jug and bottle entrance" of the pub under observation and said he saw the landlady, Mrs Beet "go to the beer engine" and draw a pint of beer. It was later claimed the beer was being used to make a Christmas pudding.

A Major H Moore had appealed for donations of clothing for the children of soldiers. He wrote to the Argus telling of his gratitude to Mr May of Stow Hill, Miss Pemberton of Malpas and Mrs Southcliffe of Woodville Road for their donations. But he regretted to say that no ladies had yet volunteered for a committee to organise and distribute the clothing.

The Argus told how: "At this time of year, the thoughts of thousands of the inhabitants of Newport and the Monmouthshire Valleys turn to their relatives and friends serving overseas." To soothe concerns those at home might have, the Argus gave updates on local units, including "a short notice on the 6th Battalion South Wales Borderers."

This Pioneer Battalion trained in Bournemouth and Codford Camp before seeing their first action on Vimy Ridge in May 1916. They then moved to the Somme and joined the battle just after the main offensive with the 75th Brigade and making a costly attack near Thiepval on the 3rd of July. The Division was in action at the Battles of Bazentin, Pozieres and Ancre Heights, the final act of the Battle of the Somme.

The Argus paid tribute to the men who had, "without waiting for compulsion, came in their thousands from the coal mines, ironworks, factories and fitting shops of Gwent."

We heard about their "happy days of training in the mud of Codford". We were told how the battalion was put to the test at Vimy Ridge, but this was only "a period of trial compared with the battalion's exploits on the Somme." We learnt there had been "many sad changes in the ranks of the battalion since then, but others have come to replace the places of those whose faces are missed."

There were even messages from prisoners of war.

Newport man Walter Henry Coombes was one of the 130 men of the 1st Battalion the Monmouthshire Regiment who were captured during the 2nd Battle of Ypres. He was taken to a Prisoner of War camp at Giessen near Frankfurt in Germany.

Walter was able to reassure his mother at 13 Caroline Street with Christmas cards like this sent from his camp saying he was well:

Dear Mother, Just a few lines hoping you are all quite well at home. I am sending you this card so write back and let me know if you get it. Walter xxxx

Another prisoner, Gunner FG Hiley, who was imprisoned "somewhere in Germany" said: "As we have nothing else in the way of recreation, a game of football is always welcomed.

"And may I tell you that one can witness as good a game over here as there has been at home."

The king sent his best wishes to "wounded sailors and soldiers" especially. "I send you, my sailors and soldiers, hearty good wishes for Christmas and the New Year" the Argus reported.

"My grateful thoughts are ever with you for victories gained, for hardships endured and for your unfailing cheeriness.

"Another Christmas has come round and we are still at war. But the Empire, confident in you, remains determined to win. May God bless and protect you. George RI."