A wartime Christmas

Snow was falling and it was a bitterly cold night. We sat in the inglenook round a huge log fire, cosy and warm. Our mother was telling us stories and we dreamed of snow-covered mountains, log cabins, huskies and reindeer. Candles flickered – we had only oil lamps and candle light – and there was a delightful sense of anticipation. It was easy to forget the coldness of the night beyond those four walls.

We were living temporarily in a very old house in a remote village on a hill in Buckinghamshire, while my father’s war work took him to Rissington aerodrome. It was an opportunity for my parents to get us away from war-torn Southern England for a while. There were none of the amenities of our own home in Kent – no gas, electricity or piped water.

Cooking was by oil or kitchen range, and drinking water was brought from a spring in a nearby field by a local man who carried two buckets on a yoke across his shoulders. Water for washing came from the rain water butts at the back of the house, and we took our bath in a galvanised tub in front of the fire – once a week! The toilet arrangement, a privy at the bottom of the garden, gave me the creeps.

Although it was 1942, it was all too easy on this Christmas Eve to forget temporarily the war raging in Europe and the air battles over South-East England. To us children this was an unusually old-world Christmas, and had Santa Claus really appeared I think we would hardly have been surprised, the atmosphere was so magical.

Despite the war we contrived some decorations and the room looked festive. Carol singers came, setting the scene. We could hardly bear to go to bed with the
excitement, but eventually we had our hot drinks, undressed in front of the fire, gathered up our candlesticks and climbed the old oak staircase to our room, oak-beamed with sloping ceiling and floor. We tied our stockings to the foot of the bed, said our prayers, carefully placed our slippers beneath the bed so as not to trip up Santa and climbed in before mother snuffed the candles. The curtains had been drawn back so that we could see the snow sparkling on the rooftops and the glittering stars against an ivy dark sky until we fell asleep.

My sister and I slept together in a large bed. In the small hours she woke and prodded me awake. Santa Claus had been: we could feel the lumpiness of our stockings, which we began to investigate in the moonlight until we found we’d been given torches.

Our beds were soon strewn with paper and presents, including fruit and nuts – a rare treat in those days -before sleep overtook us again.

Christmas Day was up to expectations: the snow was settling and still falling, the air was cold and crisp. It was a glorious day, especially when we donned thick coats, scarves, hats, gloves and boots and walked across the Green to the ancient church to celebrate the First Coming of Our Lord. Then back home to that cosy room and Christmas dinner, fun and games, tea and bad, exhausted but happy. Looking back, I marvel at how my parents managed to give us such a wonderful Christmas to remember in the middle of the Second World War. I still think, after all these years, that the expectancy of Christmas Eve is the best part of Christmas,

Diana M Bailey