As a Christmas Eve treat, I am sharing my lovely 93 year old neighbour’s memories of Christmas before the war. This article was first printed in our village magazine and I loved it – it is so different from the Christmas we know now. I am posting it here with my neighbour’s permission. She used less punctuation than I would usually, but I’ve left it exactly as it was written!
My childhood was spent in Nuneaton, the home of George Eliot. My father was a doctor so our house was always very busy. There was no NHS in those days and all medical treatment had to be paid for. There was a speaking tube on the front door so that people could contact my father in an emergency at night; it was connected to my parents’ bedroom. Christmas was busy too, early preparations were made with homemade puddings being wrapped in cloths and boiled in the copper outside in the washhouse. My mother was a very good cook and slaved away in the kitchen on Christmas day, but I don’t remember ever sitting down with the family to eat the lunch she prepared as my father had to go to the local hospital, where he was surgeon, to carve the turkey there. As my brothers were much older than me he used to take me and show me off. I found the long ward with rows of beds covered with red blankets rather frightening. I was haunted by the sight of a patient with a yellow face but I also remember the clothes I wore when I was four or five, a green corduroy cape trimmed with fur and a bonnet to match.
Later that day we enjoyed the celebrations at thome. The ground floor of the house was used as a surgery with waiting rooms and a dispensary and the dispenser lived with us. We all gathered in the drawing room upstairs around a huge Christmas tree which smelled of pine. It was covered with lovely decorations and candles. Our extended family was joined by other people like our washerwoman, Liza, who dressed in black at Christmas and wore a tall bonnet. I used to think she looked very strange, rather like Mr Toad when he dressed as a washerwoman to escape from prison.
I don’t remember writing letters to Father Christmas but I always made it plain what I wanted. My favourite present was a bus conductor’s set complete with a bell which went ping! Another time I had a doll’s house. I always had a new book too. AA Milne was very popular and I still have a first edition of one of his books. I also liked Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and Our Island Story. My borthers would cut small presents off the tree and I took them round to all the guests. Afterwards we gathered round and enjoyed music from our pianola, rolls of music were put into it and it played automatically.
We lived on the main street, which was lined with shops, chapels and pubs and at Christmas there would be market stalls as well as the Salvation Army band. When I was 12 we moved to a more residential part of the town and I went away to school.
The Second World War changed everything. I was training to be a teacher at Froebel college in London and had met my future husband on a cruise in Norway. He was at Cambridge so when my college was evacuated to Hertfordshire we were able to see one another more often. We got married, by special licence, two weeks before his embarkation leave. He served with REME for four years, travelling a lot. When he returned we moved to the North of England.
In the last few years I haven’t been able to go away for Christmas but my neighbour’s mother (that’s me and my mum!), who also comes from Nuneaton (that’s just my mum) cooks for her family and sends me round a delicious dinner. I really appreciate that. I’ve had an interesting life with lots of opportunitiesand I thank God for my family and good friends and neighbours who are so kind to me.