6 Dec 2009
CHRISTMAS ON THE HOME FRONT.
Yes, it's finally happened, something I just had to experience - my first Book Challenge.
Posted on Vivienne's site SERENDIPITY but organised by The True Book Addict (sorry I don't have a link to this blog), I chose this Challenge as it was easy to take part in, was very short lived and wouldn't disrupt my 'usual' book reading too much. Running from Thanksgiving until New Year's Eve, we were asked to read one to three books that must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore or a book of Christmas short stories with no children's books allowed.
All depending on your understanding of Christmas 'Lore', I may be stretching it a bit far but I'm including my first read under this category.
CHRISTMAS ON THE HOME FRONT by Mike Brown.
The outbreak of war in 1939 saw the disappearance of many traditional British celebrations. Guy Fawkes' Night went immediately - gunpowder production was needed for the war effort and bonfires contravened the blackout.
Summer holidays became a thing of the past and Easter all but disappeared as chocolate - and even real eggs - went 'on the ration'. In spite of this the nation remained determined to celebrate Christmas as a time of family and community: a time when war could be set aside, if only for a day.
Drawing upon personal recollections, contemporary Mass Observation reports, newspaper articles, advertisements and personal and archive photographs, Mike Brown looks at each wartime Christmas on the British Home Front from 1939 to 1944. He explores how people celebrated Christmas despite the problems of shortages, rationing, the blackout, Luftwaffe raids and the absence of family members who had been called up or evacuated.
What was the weather like? What was on the wireless? What were the popular records and sheet music of the time? What films were showing at the cinema? What about the pantomimes, shows and concerts, parties, decorations and trees? Gifts and food are discussed with a look at the presents available, and in vogue. As shortages really took hold, the various 'make-do-and-mend' solutions are described, and insights are gained into how people adapted food recipes to cope.
Life in Britain changed dramatically as the war progressed; the annual celebration of Christmas provides fascinating yearly 'snapshots', illuminating the change over six years of conflict.
.... From the inside front cover.
First Sentence (from the Introduction): The nation has made a resolve that, war or no war, the children of England will not be cheated out of the one day they look forward to all year.
Memorable Moment: Woman magazine offered a tasty recipe for stuffing. (Basically 3 large carrots, breadcrumbs, chopped suet or margarine, sultanas and a little dried egg with seasoning.)
A fascinating book though the writings of Mike Brown himself are a little dull. The recollections, recipes and advertisements are however both interesting, informative and, on occasion, quite funny.
Split into six sections, Christmas On The Home Front covers:
1939: The First Wartime Christmas which tells of a Christmas not un-like those of the pre-war years except for the emergency restrictions that were now in place.
1940: The Second Christmas looks at the air-raids and how the population coped with Christmas under such conditions.
1941: The Third Christmas which, my favourite, was both touching and funny, looking at how many of the evacuated children spent their first Christmas in the countryside.
1942: The Fourth Christmas looking at Christmas weddings and the lengths people would go to in order to make it a special occasion with most food stuffs and clothing now strictly rationed.
1944 The Last Wartime Christmas: When, "all over the world the allies were making progress and people were feeling so much more positive" even though "shortages were biting deeper than ever". Another favourite section, this looks largely at the still 'make-do-and-mend' culture which was adapted as well as the nations growing love affair with the American servicemen.
A wonderful book that should be read by all of today's youngsters, most of whom, despite it only being sixty-five years on, live in a world that is totally different from this.
MY RATING: 3 out of a possible 5.