Thursday, 20 December 2018

Christmas in wartime

I can imagine that during wartime Christmas celebrations were a welcome relief from the war. And a rare chance to get more to eat than just rations.

The authorities made great efforts during WW II to make Christmas as cheery as possible. Especially in 1940 when UK citizens didn't have a great deal to smile about as the Germans rmapaged at will across Europe and boms fell nightly on British cities.

Here's how some lucky evacuees spent their Christmas in 1940:

The activities of " that man over there" did not deter the staff and inmates of the Public Assistance Institution from spending a really jolly Christmas. After breakfast on Christmas Day, a service, conducted by the Rev. F. Ashworth, Vicar of Wall, was held in the dining hall, Mrs. T. L. Robinson presiding at the organ. During dinner, which consisted of pork, vegetables, the conventional Christmas pudding and beer and minerals, the institution was visited by the Mayor and Mayoress (Councillor and Mrs. C. H. Averill), Miss J. Fuller (Chairman of the Committee), Mr. F. Foster (a member of the Committee), Mr. G..P. Stock (District Clerk), and Mr. H. Harris (Relieving Officer).

In a short speech His Worship wished the inmates and staff the compliments of the season, to which the Master (Mr. J. A. L. Standing) suitably responded.

The Mayor and Mayoress then presented tobacco and cigarettes to the male inmates and chocolates to the women. Further gifts of sweets, apples and nuts for the women and tobacco, cigarettes, nuts and apples for the men, were also distributed. Following their visit to the dining hall, the Mayor and party made a tour of inspection of the various hospital blocks and the nursery.

During the afternoon, the whole house assembled in the Dining Hall, which had been gaily decorated with bunting and balloons, and reflected great credit on the Master, the Matron, and the Staff, for a Punch and Judy show, kindly given by Mr. Hewitt.

Tea brought to a close the festivities of the day, and the inmates retired to the day rooms to enjoy a pipe or cigarette in the case of the men, and a few hours of radio entertainment in the case of the women.

But for the London evacuees, Christmas Day at the institution meant something more than jollity and good fare. To many of the married inmates who are now billeted there, it meant reunion with husbands or wives. Since they were evacuated to the city, the males have lived in one section of the institution and their wives in another, and as a special Christmas treat, the men and women were allowed to spend the day together, serving their own meals, and having a "family party."
Lichfield Mercury - Friday 27 December 1940, page 7.
I was scratching my head about what the "Public Assistance Institution" was. When I searched on the internet, my suspicions were confirmed: it was a rebranding of the workhouse. It was the bit about married couples being separated that got me thinking it might be a workhouse. Splitting up couples was one of the inhuman aspects of workhouses.

A special Christmas rteat spending a day together? I'm not sure Dolores would see it that way.

At least they gave the inmates beer. I've seen newspaper reports from the 19th century where temperance twats voted down proposals to let workhouse inmates have a pint of beer at Christmas. The miserable bastards.

The December newspapers had plenty of adverts for Christmas booze. I found this random one interesting because of the brewery names mentioned:

"BEERS and STOUT. We stock at our Irongate Branch the following brands Beers, etc.— Whitbreads, Duncan Gilmour's, Mansfield Brewery Co.'s, Truman's, Younger's, Guinness's, Mackeson's Milk Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Bass, Worthington, Bass's Barley Wine, Lagers."
Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald - Friday 13 December 1940, page 8.
At this point, before beer zoning was introduced - you can see that beer from all over the country was available. The shop advertising was in Chesterfield, which is around 15 km south of Sheffield. Only two of the breweries mentioned are relatively local: Duncan Gilmour of Sheffield and Mansfield Brewery of, er, Mansfield.

Whitbread was from London, obviously, Truman from London and Burton, Younger from Edinburgh, Guinness probably from Dublin, but possibly from London, then Bass and Worthington both from Burton. That's quite a spread.

I'm intrigued by the two specific beers mentioned Mackeson Milk Stout and Bass Barley Wine. The latter probably wasn't around from that much longer. While Mackeson was starting to become extremely popular. Ths example sold in Chesterfield was probaly brewed by Whitbread in London, who, by that time, had taken over Mackeson.


qq said...

Wasn't Mackeson widely brewed under licence, or did that stop once Whitbread bought them?

I guess this was a bit too early for Whitbread to be brewing at Royal Oak or Kirkstall?

Dan Klingman said...

Bad enough having to be in a workhouse, calling them "inmates" seems to be piling on. Or did that mean something else back then?

Ron Pattinson said...


Mackeson licensed other breweries to make Milk Stout, but it wasn't branded as Mackeson.

qq said...

@Ron Fair enough, I thought it might be more like the way Guinness is licensed across the world.

@Dan "inmate" doesn't have to imply prison, it applied to any permanent resident of an institution, originally an "inn-mate" referred to a "housemate" in the sense of a lodger or subtenant.