Christmas 1945

by Laura Bray

The following is an extract of a letter written by my grandmother, 72 years ago today, to her son who was still on service with the Navy. She regularly attended Christ Church, Cyfarthfa, which she talks about in the letter. The vicar in question was Rev Vivian Thomas who was at Cyfarthfa Church from 1937 until 1948.

Christ Church, Cyfarthfa

Merthyr Tydfil
23 December 1945

“Christmas is the day after tomorrow…..It is a happier Christmas in many ways than we have had for the last six years.  The cloud is lifted.  There is no fear. But for ease of living I suppose things are worse than they have been at all at there is no evidence that they will be any better for a very long time.  We shall be paying off our debt to America for generations.

…Vicar got up a carol service this Sunday evening like the one in King’s. Nine lessons by different members of the choir with a carol sung between each.  Two Choir boys read lessons and four of the choir men….

Vicar had a brainwave.  He would have two Christmas trees in church, decorated and lit.  He appealed to the congregation to give him decorations.  But there are none left…..when I went up yesterday to decorate the font he was down in the depths.  His enthusiasm was petering out.  The trees that came were too big. They had had no end of trouble to get them in place. There were no decorations. People wouldn’t lend any and none could be bought.  And he could see he had had the idea the wrong year.  He should have waited until things were normal again etc etc.

We found at home long stands of tinsel – tarnished but whole – and took them up.  I bought silver paper in town and drew a star on paper, a foot across.  We cut it out in stiff cardboard and stuck the silver paper on.  It made two grand stars.  We made two tiny holes and pushed wire through and they were at the very top of the tress and looked well.  In the dark, before the lights were put on, it looked as if it were a star hanging up in the sky.  Vicar had an electrician up who wired one tree for lights, and he put a floodlight to light up the tree.  Only one.  The other tree was against the pillar just beyond the font.  The electrician came to me (I was decorating the font) for cotton wool with which to decorate the tree.  It looks really well……

After the (Carol) service, the whole choir went to the hospital and gave a concert of carols.  They went to six wards….by the end of the tour even those members of the choir who didn’t attend many choir practises, began to know them.

The sideboard is beginning to assume a Christmassy aspect, cards everywhere and oranges and apples.  Think of it.  G told me some time ago that he would see I had oranges and apples for Christmas; though for their business this was going to be the leanest winter of the war.  It is too.  The powers that be purposely arranged that there should be an allocation the week before Christmas.  To keep up our morale, no doubt”

My grandmother next writes on 29 December, when she describes Christmas Day and Boxing Day , shared with family and friends.  The house had  “Usual decorations, a holly wreath tied with red ribbon over the fireplace, the long string of separate letters from the mantlepiece…mistletoe over the hall arch, holly behind every picture…yellow chrysanths in one table vase and holly in the other…best china and linen and a nice big fire ….. on both days your photograph in a silver frame was on the table for meals and there was talk of you all day long”.

It may have been the first Christmas of peace but in many ways it was also the last Christmas of war, when families were still apart, loved and missed.

How different is her description of 1945 from Christmases today.