Christmas on the Home Front in 1939
by Fenella Miller
|Photo by Phil Gyfford, courtesy of Flickr|
1939 was the last of what could be thought of as a ‘pre-war’ Christmas. Although there were restrictions and the blackout was in place civilians were determined to celebrate. An advert that ran sums up what people felt, “As dusk falls, the fairy lights on the Christmas tree outside St Paul’s Cathedral will go out… we must await victory to again see them at night in all their colours.”
Amazingly over 4000 civilians were killed on the roads that winter compared to 2500 the previous period in 1938. There were 155 lives lost in accidents on the road in December of 1939 –the highest recorded number of deaths.
The weather that year was very seasonal – most of the country was blanketed in snow. In fact this was the coldest winter for nearly fifty years. Families were without their sons, fathers and brothers and over half a million men were serving in France.
The government wanted the population to know what they were fighting for – celebrating as always would reinforce this message. The radio, magazines and newspapers all stressed the importance of community spirit, family values, neighbourliness, faith and tradition. They wanted families to celebrate in style. Rationing didn’t begin until January so there was no shortage of the traditional Christmas fare. No doubt many remembered the shortages experienced in WW1 and were already hording food in the expectation that things would be in short supply very soon.
Children’s toys were still available but even in 1939 suggestions were being made for ways civilians could ‘make do and mend’. Rubber toys for the bath could be made from old inner tubes or hot water bottles. These are cut with scissors and stuck together with the rubber solution used to end a puncture. They were then packed with kapok or chopped up bits of rubber or cork sawdust from fruit packing. These don’t sound especially attractive – I can’t imagine any five year old being thrilled to find a dingy grey rubber toy in their sock on Christmas morning. Card games called ‘Vacuation’ and ‘Blackout’ were also popular. My husband remembers being delighted to have an orange, nuts, a sugar mouse and a couple of wooden farm animals in his sock. For him, a rural working class family, presents under the tree didn’t feature.
Folk were asked to send parcels to the troops in France containing men’s magazines and darts. A personalised Christmas card was also added – the cost was only 3s 6d. Women’s Pictorial suggested families sent boiled sweets, jam, biscuits, chutney, plum cake as well as soap and razor blades.
Nothing much has changed even after almost seventy years. I was sending parcels to out brave troops in Afghanistan last year with more or less the same things in – minus the darts and razor blades. Nothing sharp is allowed in BFPO parcels.
Christmas day radio broadcast would have been an important part of the festivities – although church would have come first. Her is small selection of what would have been listend to:
7.00: Christmas Greetings – a sackful of stories, verses and records.
7.40: The Reginald King Trio
8.15: Christmas Carols
10.00: A Nativity play by Bernard Walker ‘Bethlehem’
1.10: An Orchestral Concert conducted by Guy Warrack.
2.15: The Empire’s Greeting. (This involved messages form navy vessels, an airborne RAF aircraft, a Welsh miners’ choir, a shipyard worker’s house in Northern Ireland and many other similar things
3.00 The King’s Speech ).
I doubt anyone stands to attention when the Queen addresses the nation nowadays.
Hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into Christmas in 1939.
Fenella J Miller
As war rages over Europe, Barbara Sinclair is desperate to escape from her unhappy home which is a target of the German Luftwaffe. Caught up by the emotion of the moment she agrees to marry John, her childhood friend, who is leaving to join the RAF, but a meeting with Simon Farley, the son of a local industrialist, and an encounter with Alex Everton, a Spitfire pilot, complicate matters. With rationing, bombing and the constant threat of death all around her, Barbara must unravel the complexities of her home life and the difficulties of her emotional relationships in this gripping coming-of-age wartime drama.
World War II brings divided loyalties and tough decisions in this page turning drama from Fenella Miller.
Hannah Austen-Bagshaw’s privileged background can’t stop her falling in love with working-class pilot, Jack, but Hannah has a secret. Torn between her duty and her humanity, she is sheltering a young German pilot knowing she risks being arrested as a traitor. Hannah’s worst fears are realised when Jack finds out what she has done and their love begins to unravel.
Will her betrayal be too much for Jack to forgive?