The Chrismas Archives

Deck the Shelters with Paper Garlands

An excerpt from "A Wartime Christmas"
Maria & Andrew Hubert
Published by Sutton Publishing 1995

Decorating the shelters

A family remembers trying to decorate and prepare for Christmas during the blitz. Their sheer determination to have a traditional Christmas come what may was the stuff the British home front was made of; a stoic determination not to take any notice of the bombs!

We had always had a big tree, a real one. My uncle had a small farm, and we always got one from him; it was his present to us every year. So we had lots of lovely glass decorations, mostly from before the First World War, that had belonged to my grandfather's sister. She had married a German glassblower from Thuringia. Lovely they were, little glass birds, and Father Christmases, a cuckoo clock, and balls of all sizes and colours.

We also had a Christmas tree made from goose feathers. Not that you'd know they were feathers, they were processed - another German secret! But a good one.

It was this feather tree that was our saving during the war. It was only three feet tall, and in its own little wooden pot. So we used to decorate it with all non-breakable things, like tinsel stars, pipecleaner animals and suchlike, and paper things and tinsel. Then we could pick it up and take it down into the shelter with us! All the lovely old glass decorations were carefully wrapped and taken down to my uncle's for safety. We still have most of them. I was one of three sisters and two brothers, and we lived within sound of Bow bells though our family came from Wales and north of London, and were country folk. Our Mam was one of twelve. Catholics -big families. very useful in times of war a nuisance the rest of the time!

We managed to have a Christmas Mass in the cellars of the church in 1942. All candlelit, and completely blacked out, it was like it must have been hundreds of years ago. We got a real sense of continuity there. I remember there were no Communion wafers, so we had stale bread consecrated instead. It felt funny chewing Holy Communion as we'd always been taught not to touch the wafer with your teeth but to let it dissolve. The nuns who made the wafer hosts had used up all their flour supply, having given it to one of the local lads. He had been in a seminary, but had left to serve his country in the Army before he was made priest. As he was a deacon, he had got special permission to take Holy Communion to the front line troops fighting Rommel in Africa. So the nuns had supplied him with all their flour at short notice, as those poor lads never got a chance to even see a church.

The priest talked about pulling together and helping each other and those who needed our help. War certainly does something to bring communities closer together. Mind, we always were close in the East

End. It's all changed now. Not much of the old East End spirit left.

Copyright Maria & Andrew Hubert von Staufer March 1995