Christmas of 1942 was the first Christmas that I have memory of. I was almost three years old and living in Rosyth, Scotland. I recall my excitement crossing the Firth of Fourth Bridge by train. I got soot in my eye and cried while Lily got it out with the tip of her hanky. Her husband Ben was stationed out of Rosyth on HMS Viceroy, (in the photo) the ship was an escort destroyer on the Russian convoys.
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 was 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. The darkness was routinely broken by the air defense posts sweeping the sky with powerful beams from searchlights.. 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.
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, aimed at the trap door, sprang it 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.
God Bless and keep reading.