This year is the centenary of WWI, and while all the commemorations have been going on we wondered what Christmas was like during both wars – for those in the trenches and their families at home.
WWI – Christmas 1914
The Christmas truce of 1914 has almost become folklore. Accounts of how it came about will vary, but the basic story and the spirit of Christmas remain the same.
Soldiers on both sides of the trenches along the Western front were singing Christmas carols and shouting greetings at one another. This led to a spontaneous meeting of the opposing troops in no-mans land for an impromptu game of football and the exchange of Christmas greetings.
This truce is seen as a symbol of the Christmas spirit, and a moment of hope for humanity in the middle of a violent and bloody war. An attempt was made in 1915 to repeat the gesture but orders from on high – on both sides – forbade such gatherings, and this Christmas truce was never repeated.
When World War Two broke out in September 1939, a lot of people said ‘It’ll all be over by Christmas’, just as they had at the start of WWI. Sadly, they were yet again proved wrong.
Christmas 1939 was obviously dampened by the fear of war, and the worry of loved ones fighting abroad. There were no Christmas trees in people’s front windows because of black-out rules, and food had not yet been rationed. By Christmas 1940 the Blitz on London had started and food rationing was a way of life. As the war progressed, rationing became more severe and the usual Christmas fare like turkey and sherry, as well as cigarettes, cigars and tobacco were in short supply. Wrapping paper was almost non-existent, which may not have mattered as there was not much worth wrapping; what toys were available were very expensive and often shoddy.
As the war progressed, people recognized that it was going to be a long one, and started saving their ration points for Christmas. Christmas decorations were all home-made, usually from holly, shrubs and pine cones. ‘Make do and mend’ was the moot, and most Christmas presents were home-made and Christmas dinner often included dishes with the word ‘mock’ in them. By Christmas 1944 alcohol was in short supply, evidenced by the fact that out of over half million inhabitants in central London, only one arrest was made for drunkenness that Christmas.
Christmas Crackers were in short supply during the Second World War, with the MOD placing restrictions on the production of cracker snaps. The MOD also commissioned bundles of cracker snaps to be tied together; these were then used by soldiers in training to mimick the noise of machine gun fire.