Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas 1944

Today's market place

My sister lived in Bristol. Her husband was away in the Malayan or Burmese jungle (I know not which) fighting alongside Ghurkhas, crawling through leach-infested jungle in the service of his Country. My mother and father sent me off to Bristol Temple Meads Station where I was met by my sister, my eight year old niece and her younger brother. I had a label tied to my lapel as if I was a parcel and I was placed under the charge of the train guard who was responsible for the contents of the guards van. It was a steam locomotive in those days. He carried red and green flags attached to short-handle staves. He waved the green one for the driver to start the train and quickly joined me in the van.

Artificial trees galore!

My sister lived in a small terrace house, which was a fifteen minute bus ride from the station. I thought her house was antiquated with its gas lighting. Even the street lamps were powered by gas, and before nightfall they were lit by the local lamplighter. He had a long pole with a flint striker at the top, and a hook for turning the gas on and off. Coal and wood fires provided heat in the house. That Christmas was my first away from home, but I was not in the least fretful, for I had the company of my niece and nephew, and a loving sister who was more like a second mother.


There was a real Christmas tree in the corner of the back room. It was decorated with tiny candles clipped to the ends of its branches, and there were also colourful baubles hanging from threads tied to the branches. Flickering flames from a Yule log were reflected from the tiled hearth. A long embroidered mantel was draped over a wrought iron shelf above the fireplace upon which there were a number of Christmas cards. Overhead paper chains were looped from each corner of the ceiling to a central roundel from which a pendant gas light hung.

My sister busied herself frying eggs and chips while we children were left to play. All of a sudden there was a loud crackling from the fireplace, and immediately one end of the mantle was alight. In alarm I called my sister who rapidly brought a bowl of water into the room and doused the flames. She calmly removed the remains of the mantel, replaced the cards and cleaned the hearth. Finally, she covered the fireplace with a metal mesh guard. The house could have been an inferno within minutes had she not acted so promptly.

It was Christmas Eve. Each of us was given a nylon stocking which we hung on the end of our metal frame beds. I slept in the box room. Early on Christmas morning we were woken by my sister and we eagerly found our stockings which we were not permitted to open until we gathered on the large double bed in the front bedroom. It was still dark outside. The gas lamp fluttered as it cast its feeble yellow glow. We groped inside our stockings and pulled out one item at time. They all contained identical articles: a small bag of liquorice allsorts, a party horn that made a duck-like quacking sound, a packet of wax crayons, a paper bag filled with hard-boiled sweets, a Christmas hat and an orange. In addition to our stockings there were parcels for sharing. We eagerly tore them open to reveal, cardboard puzzles, games of Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Tiddlywinks, Draughts and drawing books.

Candles on the tree were carefully lit at dinnertime and again at teatime, but only for ten minutes or so at each meal. There was Christmas pudding with silver threepenny bits hidden in it at both meals. We played all day and had much fun. Our Christmas was to us a wonderful time, and over sixty years later, I remember it so well.


Illustrations are of stuff sold today.

Text for the Day

Luke 2:10, 11 'Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings and great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.'

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