Friday 30 November 2018

During the Second World War, film cameras captured how people celebrated the festive season on both the home front and the fighting fronts. These seven clips from IWM’s film collection shows both civilians and members of the armed forces – even Santa makes an appearance. Some were purely informational - alerting people to extra Christmas rations for example – while others presented carefully crafted narratives of the war.

Christmas under fire

© IWM (MGH 633)

Christmas under fire

"England is fighting for her life…and even the smallest child understands that.”

In Christmas Under Fire, a 1941 British short documentary film, American journalist Quentin Reynolds explored how English people were getting on with life and celebrating the festive season in the midst of the Second World War. 

Christmas underground

© IWM (MGH 633)

Christmas underground

The film ends with shots of a tube station platform, crowded with people – and a mother tucking her baby in for the night. The propaganda film intended for US audiences was nominated for an Academy Award in 1942.

Film number: MGH 633

Spitfires and snowballs

© IWM (GEN 11)

Spitfires and snowballs

In December 1944, the RAF Film Production Unit captured snowy scenes of Spitfires on the ground. Although the war still raged, pilots found some time to enjoy a snowball fight and some tobogganing while grounded.

Film Number: GEN 11

Rationing

© IWM (COI 1092)

Rationing

At Christmas, some extra rations were available.

A Food Flash short film was one way for the government to make sure people knew about their extra entitlement. Between March 1942 and November 1946, more than 200 Ministry of Food short Food Flash films were shown in British cinemas.

Film number: COI 1092

Post Early for Christmas!

© IWM (NPB 14183)

Post Early for Christmas!

Getting cards and presents to their intended recipients was so important that the Ministry of Information produced several short films reminding people not to wait until the last minute to put their festive mail in the post. In this animation, Father Christmas is driven to tears and then forced to overload his sleigh to make his festive deliveries – with unfortunate results.

Film Number:NPB 14183

How Eighth Army spent Xmas

© IWM (S15 14)

How Eighth Army spent Xmas

The Eighth Army was a British unit comprising troops from throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth. When some of these men found themselves celebrating Christmas in Tobruk, Libya, in 1943, they made the best of it.

This clip shows soldiers enjoying Christmas amongst the ruins.

Film Number: S15 14

Sharing a meal

© IWM (A70 217-3)

Sharing a meal

Members of the 1st/5th Battalion Welch Regiment spent Christmas 1944 with the civilian residents of Baexem, a village in the Netherlands. These clips shows the men enjoying beer, Christmas pudding and singing close to a windmill.

Film Number: A70 217-3

Find out More

Explore IWM’s film collection.

Contact the media licensing team for further information and help with archive research.

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