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PICS: Surviving Christmas during World War II

Poignant archive pictures show attempts to bring Christmas cheer and boost morale through 1939 to 1945.

CHRISTMAS IS A time when normal routine is suspended for many people – and so it was in the depths of World War II. For civilians and military alike during the 1939-45 period, normality was a loose concept, but these archive pictures show how they attempted to put on a brave face and observe some of the traditions that they would have enjoyed during peacetime.

These traditions – the Christmas dinner, presents and parties – became hugely modified as the toll of food rationing, wartime separation and bombing raids took their toll. Some of the following photographs also betray a touch of propaganda, aimed to boost morale and support for the war effort (we have left in the original captions to give you a taste of the message they were supposed to send out to beleaguered troops and the public). All, no matter their intended effect, are incredibly poignant.

PICS: Surviving Christmas during World War II
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  • 1939, Mount Pleasant postal sorting office, London

    Original caption: "Christmas parcels being sorted at Mount Pleasant sorting office in London." Spot the poultry and foodstuffs in abundance - the severity of rationing had yet to kick in. (Barratts/S&G Barratts/EMPICS Archive)
  • 1939, Christmas on the German front

    Original caption: "From somewhere on Germany's Westwall comes this quiet winter scene shown Dec. 23, 1939. Its contrast of dark branches and white snow making a picture pretty enough for a Christmas card. But look more closely, tangled in the foreground, its cruel efficiency almost hidden by the all-covering snow, lies barbed wire -- the stuff men have placed between themselves in Europe this Christmas." (AP Photo)
  • 1939, The White House, Washington DC

    Peace still reigned in the US which would not enter the war for another two years, until after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Original caption: "In this Dec. 25, 1939, file photo it was a family Christmas at the White House in Washington for the Roosevelt's in the East Room as the family watches Johnny Boettiger, son of Anna Roosevelt Boettiger crawl on the floor. Seated on floor, left to right: Eleanor "Sistie" Dall; Diana Hopkins, daughter of Harry Hopkins, Secretary of Commerce; and Curtis "Buzzie" Dall, Jr. Seated, left to right: Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt; Mrs. Sara Roosevelt, the president's mother; Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., with Franklin III on lap; the president; Mrs. John Boettiger, the president's daughter, mother of Johnny; Mrs. J.R. Roosevelt, the chief executive's sister-in-law; and Mrs. John Roosevelt. Standing, left to right: Franklin, Jr., John Roosevelt and John Boettiger." (AP Photo/File)
  • 1939, Breaking the blackout, Oxford Street, London

    Original caption: "Black-outs or no black-outs, the Christmas shopping has to be done-and Londoners are seeing to it that it is done. This was what Oxford Street, famed London shopping centre, looked like shortly after six oÂ'clock, looking from a point near the marble arch towards Oxford Circus in London, Dec. 16, 1939. The film had a quarter of an hour's exposure. The footpath looks rather like a New York sidewalk after a ticker-tape reception to a homecoming hero - the torches carried by the shoppers caused that effect. The left side of the road has long macaroni-like strips and the right is snow-white. The dimmed headlamps of the motorists caused that. It is a picture that makes you think London is not so dark in the black-out hours after all - but this is the cumulative effect of a quarter of an hour'’s exposure; Londoners never see their capital like this in blackout time, when, we can assure you, the outlook is very black indeed." (AP Photo)
  • 1940, Christmas Eve in a London tube station bunker

    Original caption: "These little toddlers may have been sleeping this year on bunks in a London tube station on Christmas eve on Dec. 26, 1940- but Santa Claus did not forget to pay them a visit. This glad sight met their eyes when they woke up on Christmas morning. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree, with lots of good things hanging on it- and even the stockings hanging on their bunks were filled with presents." (AP Photo)
  • 1940, Christmas Day in a London tube station bunker

    Original caption: "London children enjoying themselves at a Christmas Party, Dec. 25, 1940, in an underground shelter." (AP Photo)
  • 1940, Christmas Eve with Hitler

    Original caption: "Adolf Hitler, centre, dines with coastal defence workers of the organisation Todt in a camp tent in celebration of Christmas Eve in Germany on December 24, 1940." (AP Photo)
  • 1940, German army postal department, Poland

    Original caption: "About 800 women are packing packages at a special Army Postal Department in Breslau, Poland, on Dec. 23, 1940 for shipment to German soldiers at Christmas." (AP Photo)
  • 1940, East Lane market, Walworth, London

    Original caption: "This soldier intends to have a good Xmas dinner: A Tank Corps corporal walking off with four ducks, which were being sold at 3/- each at East Lane, Walworth." (Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images)
  • 1941, Canadian soldiers host party for London children

    Original caption: "More than 200 Acton children were guests of Canadian soldiers at a Christmas Party on December 16. All the youngsters bad either been bombed out or their father were prisoners of war. There was an outside Christmas tree, and a Santa Claus to distribute the toys made by the staff of the Canadian Administrative Records H.Q. A bumper tea with ice cream and jelly, a film show and carol signing was enjoyed by all. The happy youngsters wearing colourful hats are waited on by members of the Canadian Army, Dec. 16, 1941." (AP Photo)
  • 1941, Christmas dance for US volunteers, NYC

    Original caption: "Servicemen dance with United Service Organisations (USO) volunteers during the National Catholic Community service's Christmas dance in the Rainbow Room in New York City, Dec. 27, 1941." (AP Photo)
  • 1941, White House, Washington DC

    Original caption: "US President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and members of their party leave the White House in Washington, Dec. 25, 1941 for Christmas Service at the Foundry Methodist Church. From left to right are Lord Beaverbrook, British Minister of Supply; Mrs. Roosevelt; the Prime Minister; the President." (AP Photo)
  • 1941, Department store, London

    Original caption: "The last minute rush for Christmas greeting cards in a department store in London, England Dec. 19, 1941. These will probably be some of the last Christmas cards to be sold as the British governments order restricting the use of paper, prohibits printing cards for the duration." (AP Photo)
  • 1941, The Libyan desert

    Original caption: "British soldiers taking part in the African campaign kneel in the desert in Bardia, Libya, Jan. 26, 1941 for a Christmas sunrise mass." (AP Photo)
  • 1942, Bunker in the Buna, New Guinea

    Original caption: "Sitting in front of a Japanese bunker captured at Simemi Creek, in the Buna, New Guinea theatre of the war on Dec. 23, 1942, Capt. Maclin Frierson, left, of Birmingham Ala., and Pfc. Raymond Melody, Lake City, Iowa, open Christmas presents that were given to them by the American Red Cross." (AP Photo/Pool/Ed Widdis)
  • 1942, London toy depot

    Original caption: "Small traders queuing up outside a London wholesale toys depot, Dec. 21, 1942 to obtain their supplies of Christmas toys which will fill the shops." (AP Photo)
  • 1942, San Angelo army air field, Texas

    Original caption: "Continuous night bombing schedule of the intensive bombardier training program allows no time out for Christmas Eve worship. Lt. Eugene F. McCahey, flying chaplain of San Angelo Army Air Field, bring the Christmas message to the bomber flight line on Dec. 24, 1942. Pausing after the cadets receive his blessing before continuing their practice blasting of the 18,000 acres of this bombardier schoolÂ's night target bombing ranges in San Angelo, Texas. Chaplain McCahey is himself a pilot. (**Caption information received incomplete)" (AP Photo)
  • 1942, British battleship

    Original caption: "Christmas dinner on board a British battleship, Dec. 29, 1942. The ward-room drinking the Royal Toast seated in Navy fashion. The privilege of remaining seated during the drinking the KingÂ's health was granted to the Royal Navy by King Charles II. P.N.A." (AP Photo)
  • 1942, Christmas dinner in the USA

    Original caption: "Miss Virginia Hammel of McLeod County, Minn., war worker in Washington, D.C., wades into the typical American Christmas dinner on Dec. 23, 1942. It includes roast Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Tomato and Lettuce Salad, peas, string beans, rolls and butter, coffee with cream and sugar, and Mince Pie. Americans will top their dinner off with Mince Pie if their previous helpings have been discreet. This bounty is thanks to the American farmer who overcame such obstacles as Labor and Machinery shortages to provide US with holiday food." (AP Photo)
  • 1942, Christmas dinner in England

    Original caption: "Miss Enid Nobes of Portsmouth, Hampshire in England demonstrates the average British Yuletide dinner, Dec. 23, 1942. It consists of a thin slice of meat, such as lamb, boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts, tea, bread and a small dab of butter, with a small pudding for dessert. The traditional Christmas pudding will be evolved from spice, prunes, apples, carrots and potatoes, cooked over a communal stove to save precious fuel. Even this menu will mean careful saving of ration coupons for several weeks before Christmas. To rescue the from further slicing in 1943, U.S. farmers are mobilizing all resources to meet next year's food goals. (**Caption information received incomplete)" (AP Photo)
  • 1943, Ruined church in Ortona, Italy

    Original caption: "Canadian troops have their Christmas Eve dinner amongst the debris of Ortona's Santa Maria di Costantinopoli church Dec. 24, 1943. After 55 years, 29 Canadian veterans, who took part at the battle for the freedom of Ortona in 1943, and six of their German enemies, who tried to hold it in one of the toughest battles of the Mediterranean campaign, decided to meet in the rebuilt Santa Maria di Costantinopoli church for a reconciliation Christmas Eve mass and dinner." (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
  • 1943, Carthage, Tunisia

    Original caption: "After an informal luncheon party on Christmas Day in Carthage to celebrate his recovery from a severe attack of pneumonia, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, dressed in his now world famous "siren suit" and wearing a colorful dressing gown was photographed with his guests, Dec. 25, 1943 which included a number of Allied Chiefs of Staff. From Left to right are: Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. Harold Alexander, Commander-in-Chief., Allied Armies in Italy, and Mr. Churchill." (AP Photo)
  • 1943, United States Aid Record studio

    Original caption: "Lending their voices to 'Silent Night' during their recording for the Christmas Day program for servicemen on Dec. 4, 1943 are, left to right are Dinah Shore, Ginny Simms and Frances Langford." (AP Photo)
  • 1943, Red Cross station, New Guinea

    Original caption: "At a Red Cross station in New Guinea on Jan. 18, 1943, natives assist Australians with sacks of Christmas parcels which were dropped from transport planes in the Kokoda and Myola areas." (AP Photo)
  • 1943, Rationing pledges, London

    Original caption: "Martin Boggon, eight years old, of Radlett, Hertfordshire, is the first child to sign the pledge book at the fair in London Jan. 6, 1943. The pledge is: '“I promise as my Christmas gift to the sailors who have to bring our bread I will no all I can to eat home grown potatoes instead.'"” (AP Photo)
  • 1944, The Von Trapp family Christmas Eve concert

    Original caption: "The Trapp family singers are shown at rehearsal in New York, Dec. 15, 1944 for the Christmas Eve broadcast when they will be the guests of the U.S. rubber company as the intermission feature of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Concert. The Trapps, with their priest and director-Father Franz Wasner (center)-will sing from Burlington, Vt. This choral group is unique in that all of the members belong to one family." (AP Photo)
  • 1944, Belgium

    Original caption: "To show their gratitude to their liberators, these Belgian children are donating their own toys for British children who are short of playthings this Christmas in Belgium, Dec. 1, 1944. Most of the Belgian children combed thru attics and cupboards, unearthing toys that had not seen the light since before the Germans came." (AP Photo)
  • 1944, New Guinea

    Original caption: "American Navajo Indians, members of the 158th U.S. Infantry, who have played a prominent part in breaking through the main Japanese defences in New Guinea on Jan. 20, 1944, pose in jungle grass regalia they made on a South Pacific Island to celebrate their traditional Christmas dances. From left to right are Pfc. Dale Winney and Pvt. Joe Tapaha, of Gallup, N.M.; Pfc. Joe Gishi and Pvt. Perry Toney, of Holbrook, Ariz." (AP Photo)
  • 1944, On leave in London

    Original caption: "500 tough, sunburned veterans of the Mediterranean war, arrived at a London railway station on December 2, for twenty-eight days'€™ leave. They were the first contingent, of the 2 thousand that docked in England in morning, to reach London. Some of the men as they arrived at a London station on Dec. 2, 1944." (AP Photo)
  • 1945, Unknown location, injured German paratrooper

    Original: "A wounded German paratrooper who participated in the German on December 16 breakthroughs into Belgium and Luxembourg sits in the snow awaiting aid after surrendering, Jan. 6, 1945. He said he had been promised Christmas in Paris. His age 18." (AP Photo)
  • 1945, Camp Stanley, Hong Kong

    Original caption: "Liberated after nearly 4 years under Japanese rule, 2,400 civil internees of camp Stanley, Hong Kong, had much to show and tell to the men of the British Pacific Fleet task force, under rear Admiral C.H.J. Harcourt, that Christmas Day in 1941. There were many examples of suffering and ingenuity they were much more fortunate that thousands of others they were near the sea, were able to keep clean with sea-water baths, some red cross parcels did filter through. Miss Wendy Rossini of Wembley, London, shows the camp's’ daily ration of rice for her '“room' of five people, Sept. 29, 1945. Meals were supplemented by any scraps bartered from Japanese with jewellery and other personal possessions, what Red Cross parcels were permitted to filter through. She hates the Japanese for their cruelty, wants to get home as soon as possible." (AP Photo)
  • 1945, Bomb bunker, Marcourt, Belgium

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