Valley Wives December Report

From Joan Steel
Jill welcomed us all to the meeting and gave a particularly warm welcome to former members Margery Jenkins and Anne Nesbit. “Wartime Christmas” was the title of Edna’s talk, illustrated with slides and artefacts from the era. In her introduction, Edna spoke of her passion for social history. She met her husband when playing the part of an ARP warden in a war re-enactment play and now has three children who play with old fashioned toys as the whole family have become involved in historical things. They also have a 1930s house with all pre-war furniture and fittings, including an Anderson shelter.

Their home has been used for film sets and the kitchen was used by Margaret Pattern for doing a wartime cookery programme. The Cabinet War rooms were furnished partly from Edna’s collection of utility furniture. They have also sourced artefacts for Hughenden Manor’s wartime exhibition. The couple have varied careers connected with history and now also hold workshops for schoolchildren.

During her talk Edna outlined how lives changed in 1939. The traditional family Christmas was not possible as most children were evacuated. Evacuee parties took place and were especially enjoyed if held at an American air base where there was no rationing, lots of sweets, presents and food! Food rationing became more and more severe as the war progressed and was all controlled by the Ministry of Food. People were encouraged to rear chickens and pigs that were fed on scraps and some farmers were allowed to rear geese. Fashions changed, women altered to wearing trousers as they worked in factories or on farms in the “Land Army”. Everyone was encouraged to grow food in the Dig for Victory campaign. Recipes were adapted to make Christmas cakes, puddings etc with unusual ingredients to replace those on ration. Advice was given on preservation of food by bottling, pickling and drying. Bell-ringing was banned as it was used as a warning of an invasion There was none of the usual glow about Christmas because of the Blackout, no light was to be shown from windows or outbuildings, no Chrstmas tree lights, fireworks , bonfires, torches etc, and car headlamps had to be hooded. Christmas trees were only allowed in public places eg hospitals, shelters, underground stations and were decorated to boost morale, which was as important at home as in the forces. Petrol was rationed so people took holidays at home, mostly working eg on harvesting. Clothes were rationed on coupons, possibly enough to provide one outfit per year. “Make Do and Mend” was the slogan. Most clothes were altered or the cloth reused, knitted jumpers were undone and reknitted into socks gloves hats etc. People gave practical gifts eg things for comfort in the air raid shelters, eg sleeping bags, torches, books, siren suits, games, gas mask bags or tins, home-made gifts were treasured and particularly food, also soap’ bath salts and tooth paste were really appreciated. War bonds and war savings were good gifts that could be cashed after the war. Paper was in short supply, recycled and poor quality, thus affecting the sale of Christmas cards. Edna showed us a wide range of interesting literature of the time, plus slides, photographs, games and toys which, for some, brought back memories of harsh, although happy days when everything was fun (except the long bitterly cold winters when the novelty of sledging had worn off!).

Edna was warmly thanked for a most interesting evening. Please join us for our next meeting on10th January in the Small Hall. Wishing You All a Happy New Year