A Christmas Letter

These past six months had been an insightful and personally rewarding period regarding my research on war and its effects on communities affected by war. In the spirit of Christmas, family occasions were particularly remembered by the soldiers who gained comfort and feelings of optimism while facing the prospect of death in the line of fire. Christmas and Easter were particularly recalled with clarity by men on the fields of battle.

Family photographs, letters home and diaries written by enlisted Anzac servicemen had provided a treasure trove of memories. The following excerpt is taken from Bob Russell’s recollections from Tony Williams’s book Anzacs: Stories From New Zealanders At War.[1]

There were many casualties on both sides and there was a lull in the fighting while both sides licked their wounds: It was Christmas and in 1941 there was no ham and Christmas pudding but “yummy” beef and rice: and for sweets, tinned fruit.’

Private Christie Rolleston was a soldier writing on the battlefields of Greece. He knew his letters home to Maketū would provide comfort and solace to his mother and father. The following excerpt was written by Christie during the battle in Greece and dated 5 May 1940:

By jove mum I wish now that I was back at home for Christmas … you sure did have a party for the dinner … Margaret mentioned it in her letter, it made me feel quite home-sick, but above all , pleased to know that you people enjoyed everything. Be like that mum and keep your spirits up for I’ll be home shortly.’

Christie Keretu Rolleston was born in Maketū to Maremare Rolleston and Te Ruru Ngawikau Tapsell. He was the second eldest son of five sons who had volunteered for active service overseas. He was educated in Maketū and Hato Petera Catholic Boys’ College. During his youth, he excelled in rugby and equestrian events. Christie and brothers Pu and Sonny managed and worked a dairy farm at Maketū while the farmer, Major Bennett, had travelled overseas.

In 1939, Christie volunteered for service overseas and enlisted into Te Arawa ‘B’ Company, 28th Māori Battalion. After training in Papakura in South Auckland and Trentham, Upper Hutt, the 28th Māori Battalion sailed for North Africa.

In his letter home dated 5 May 1940, Christie vividly described how the New Zealand 28th Māori Battalion and other allies in Greece were under an intensive attack and assault with no covering fire: ‘terrible bombing, machine gunning and dive-bombing … from the combined German army, navy and air force: they (Germans) had no opposition’. As a consequence, the allies had evacuated to Crete and North Africa under the cover of darkness.

Christie wrote at length about the experience of retreat endured by the allies. Despite their eagerness to remain and face the enemy, the order had been given from British High Command HQ in Cairo to meet the ships waiting to evacuate the troops and sail for North Africa and Crete.


[1] Bob Russell, ‘He’s Alive, He’s Alive’, Tony Williams (ed.), Anzacs: Stories From New Zealanders At War. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett Publishers, 2000, 164–165.

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