This photograph shows 'Father Christmas' presenting Winston Churchill Junior, the Prime Minister's grandson, with a gift of a book of nursery rhymes at a Christmas party at Admiralty House.
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Six years of war brought many changes to familiar festive rituals. Christmas celebrations often had to be scaled down or adjusted as restrictions and shortages took hold.
For many families, the most difficult part of a wartime Christmas would be spending the festive season apart from loved ones. Many men were in the armed forces or were prisoners of war. Women might also be away in the services or carrying out war work. Many children spent Christmas away from home as evacuees. By the end of the war, many families might have suffered the death of a family member either in action or from enemy bombing raids.
Luxuries of the Christmas season were especially hard to come by - even basic foods were scarce. People had to find substitutes for key festive ingredients. Gifts were often homemade and practical, children’s toys often made from recycled materials. Cards were smaller and printed on flimsy paper.
In 1941, to conserve paper, the Ministry of Supply decreed that 'no retailer shall provide any paper for the packing or wrapping of goods excepting food stuffs or articles which the shopkeeper has agreed to deliver' - this lack of wrapping paper made it difficult to keep Christmas presents a surprise.
As in peacetime, a prominent feature of Christmas during the war was the singing of songs and carols, pantomimes and plays. The BBC also put on a special Christmas Day radio programme. From 1939 onwards this included a Christmas speech by the King, so popular with listeners that it became an annual ritual.
Ready for Christmas: the Canteen under St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, 1941, by Edmund Knapp. This drawing shows the interior of an underground canteen under St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London. Canteens like this would have provided shelter and refreshments for those who had been bombed out of their own homes, or who were working as fire-watchers or on ARP duties.
Royal Marine J Lynch of Newport building a dolls house, complete with furniture, 1943. In the weeks before Christmas, men and officers in the Royal Navy often put their practical skills to use in making presents for their families at home. This photograph shows Marine Lynch on a battleship putting the finishing touches to a large dolls house, complete with furniture.
Mrs Devereux and her daughter Jean pulling a Christmas cracker in front of their Christmas tree, 1944. This photograph is one in a sequence illustrating a YMCA scheme for delivering birthday and Christmas gifts to relatives of troops serving overseas. The tree in the photograph was bought under the scheme by Trooper Devereux while serving in Italy. His photograph can be seen on the tree. According to the original Ministry of Information caption, by 1944 about 20,000 gifts a year were being sent at a cost of about £35,000.
Tell Them to Make It a War Savings Christmas! This poster was issued by the National Savings Committee. The government’s main aim in encouraging saving and discouraging spending on consumer goods was to keep inflation as low as possible. By 1943, there were nearly 300,000 individual savings groups in Britain.
A Shelter in Camden Town under a Brewery: Christmas Eve, 1940, by Olga Lehmann. Christmas 1940 took place in the middle of the Blitz. Between September and November London had been bombed every night, and German air raids across the country had resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 people. Bombing raids showed no signs of abating as Christmas Day approached, so many people in the big cities spent Christmas Eve in a shelter.
Post Christmas Letters by 20th December, 1941, by 'Lewitt-Him'. This poster, designed for the GPO by George Him and Jan Le Witt, advises of the last posting day before Christmas. In wartime, finding adequate numbers of postal workers to deal with the influx of extra Christmas letters and parcels became more of a problem as many permanent staff members were in the services. There was also less space available to carry mail on the railways, which were needed for transport of troops and munitions.
Derek Cunningham receives a Christmas card, savings stamp and gifts donated through the British War Relief Society (BWRS), 1944. The BWRS was an umbrella organisation for many small charities that had sprung up across the United States as a response to the British experience of war. The BWRS acted as an administrative office and a central receiving depot for money and supplies, which were then distributed to organisations in the US and Britain. This photograph was taken at Canning Town Settlement in East London, which had suffered heavily in the Blitz.
American troops in Britain, 1942-1945. This photograph shows an American serviceman (GI) and a member of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) at a Red Cross Club. For many GIs, Christmas 1942 was their first spent away from home, and they welcomed the chance to spend the day with British families. The Americans often took lavish gifts of food to their hosts, which were gratefully received by the recipients.
Pupils at Fen Ditton Junior School in Cambridgeshire making Christmas decorations, 1944. The children in this photograph are making paper chains, a popular Christmas decoration. In wartime, these would be made from scraps of old paper or painted newspapers. Very few decorations were available to buy in the shops.
Handmade toy seed drill made as a Christmas gift. This seed drill is one of a set of farm implements made during the Second World War by an 11-year-old boy for his sister, who had left home to join the Women's Land Army. They were all handmade from recycled materials and treasured for over 50 years before being donated to IWM.
souvenirs and ephemera