Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Wartime Christmas

December 1940, and a child sleeps on in an air raid shelter, all decorated and ready for Christmas. A single stocking hangs by the side of the bed, packed with little presents or treats.

The video link below shows how Britain was preparing to spend Christmas, in 1940, the year of the Blitz.

 People spent Christmas in their shelters, in an attempt to keep themselves safe from the bombs. As a result, very short Christmas trees were in demand, on account of the reduced height inside the shelters.

Getting by on the family ration was undoubtedly a challenge for every person on a weekly basis, but when it came to Christmas it was even more so. Turkey was simply not affordable, at least not to the majority. Chicken was also expensive so many turned to home reared chickens or rabbits. The latter often became cherished family pets of children who would have been most reluctant to see them appear on the Christmas platter at lunch time. Home grown vegetables and home made chutney would also have been supplied. With the food shortage Britain rose to the challenge assisted by the Women's Land Army, to grow their own and to keep farming production going whilst the men went to war.

Gifts would also have presented a challenge for the majority of people. The motto, 'Make do and Mend' was used prolifically and that's exactly what people did. Everything possible was recycled - brown paper and string was scarce and used over and over on parcels. Toys were home made, such as wooden carved trains or boats or doll's house furniture. Mums knitted with whatever wool they could get hold of and made sweets for the children for special treats. The British public had been discouraged from buying gifts, and encouraged to give as much as possible to the war effort. Ten million pounds in war bonds were sold the week before Christmas 1940.

There would be no Christmas bells as this signified invasion. The BBC broadcast a Christmas service from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Both the German and British Governments postponed bombing raids from Christmas Eve until the 27th December. Two days later on the 29th there came one of the most ferocious bombing raids of the Blitz which created a fire so fierce that it became known as the Second Great Fire of London. As the city burned, the dome of St Paul's Cathedral was pictured rising above the flames.

One woman recorded in her diary at that time that a 'great red glow filled the sky' and that she had no need for a torch that night. To add to the chaos and devastation, a low tide in the Thames caused fire hydrants to run dry and rubble blocked roads prevented emergency services getting through.

Twenty nine incendiary bombs fell on and around St Paul's that night, one of which fell and lodged within the roof timbers. Molten lead then began to drip down into the nave below. As smoke from the fires outside began to engulf the cathedral, an American reporter broadcasting live announced that St Paul's was burning to the ground. However, two teams of specialist fire-watchers were immediately spurred into action, crawling across the wooden beams with hand pumps to extinguish the fire. At that moment the incendiary fell right through into the nave below, where it was easily extinguished. Perhaps a miracle on that night. As a result, St Paul's survived.

St Paul's was like the phoenix, rising from the fire, from the ashes. This picture became the transcendent image of the Blitz, and just as the cathedral had survived, so too did the British people vow to do the same.

By the end of 1940, twenty four thousand people had been killed by the Blitz and hundreds of thousands were homeless.
After all the wars that have been and after our own servicemen and women have sacrificed their own lives for their countries, we should remember this:

Merry Christmas to all.

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