I thought on this Christmas Eve 2013 it would be nice to share the memories of my first Christmas, the first one that I was at least old enough to be aware of. We lived in a dingy little flat in Rosyth Scotland. The German Armies were rapidly advancing into Russia, and Lily’s husband was on the Russian convoy routes.
Christmas of 1942 was the first year I really began to understand what it was all about. As the special day approached, I grew more and more excited. On Christmas Eve Lily put me to bed early with a warning that Father Christmas would not come if I were awake. Falling asleep on this particular night wasn’t easy for an excited little boy. I lay in bed worrying what might happen if he arrived and found me still awake. In my very active imagination, the events taking place on that night would for many years remain real rather than a dream. First, I would hear a strange noise outside my bedroom window. My bed was against the window, making it easy to stand and peer into the dark night sky.
Air defense posts routinely swept the sky with powerful beams from searchlights probing the dark sky. In one of these bright rays I would see something so incredulous I hardly dared to believe my eyes. There was Father Christmas, driving his sleigh through the sky, complete with six reindeer. I suddenly became very scared. Had he seen me in the window? Would he still come, knowing I was awake? At that point I would dive under the covers and out of sight. I prayed he hadn’t spotted me, and laid very still, hardly breathing and trying very hard to fall asleep. It must have worked, for the next thing I remember is Lily waking me, telling me to come see what Father Christmas had brought me. All my life, I have retained the wonderful memory of that magical night. Was it merely a child’s imagination?
During the war no manufacturing of toys took place. Industries were geared to the maximum output of war materials and essential goods. Shortages existed everywhere, and toys were at the bottom of a long list of priorities such as food, clothing, pencils, paper, soap, and a host of other things. Born only months before the war began, I was unaware of the shortages. I couldn’t begin to miss things I had never had – sweets, fresh fruits, or ice cream. It didn’t mean I had no toys or didn’t receive Christmas presents. Quite the contrary, I remember handmade toys far more ingenious than anything in the toy shops today.
On that wonderful Christmas morning, I unwrapped a hand-made cargo ship and torpedo. It was the most amazing toy I had ever seen. The ship was about a foot long, with a small trap door on the port side of the hull. The door was held in place by setting a mechanism similar to a mousetrap. I had difficulty setting it and often required help. Once secured in place, the ship would float with the door partly below the water line. Next came the torpedo, which, when aimed at the trap door, it sprang open on impact and sunk the ship.
Tragically unaware, I happily played with my toy in the bathtub while the same thing was happening to real ships crossing the Atlantic. I don’t know who made my ship; possibly it was made during the long hours of convoy duty by one of Ben’s shipmates.
Christmas was marred by the fact that Ben was at sea. Lily and I celebrated as best we could, and later joined festivities with the family downstairs. Christmas dinner was a sparse meal – no chicken or gravy, no Christmas crackers, no plum pudding; perhaps a tiny portion of pork or beef, if Lily had been lucky at the butcher shop. If not, a slice of Spam would be the main course, accompanied by a few potatoes and maybe a vegetable.
That was the memory of my first Christmas many years ago. It is difficult to understand, the war has been over for many years yet we still have desperate people and little children suffering everywhere. Why???????? in this world of plenty.
God Bless and a Merry Christmas.