Christmas 1940

Christmas 1940

by Ivor Slipper


By December 1940 Britain had been at war with Germany for over a year. Initially there had been a long period of the so called ‘Phoney War’ when despite dire predictions nothing had really happened, but then early in 1940 the German army had swept through France and the Low Countries sweeping aside any opposition. The remnants of the defeated British Army had miraculously been evacuated from Dunkirk and then had followed the ‘Battle of Britain’ when the British and Allied fighter pilots had stemmed the Luftwaffe and prevented invasion. Following that the Germans had switched to night bombing – ‘The Blitz’


Tommy Green lived with his parents in the East End of London. He was now twelve years old and had with the other boys in the neighbourhood stood and watched the dogfights in the skies above. After the onset of Autumn and night bombing there were no aircraft to be watched, but there were plenty of bomb sites for them to explore.

Tommy was though a little different to the other kids. His birth had been a difficult one for his mother – back then there was no National Health Service and for people such as his mother birthing took place at home with the assistance of grandmothers and friends and neighbours. Almost certainly he had been starved of oxygen as a result of the struggle his mother had when delivering him and as a result his brain was affected. Tommy just hadn’t developed at the same rate as other kids of his age. Although he was now twelve he could hardly read or write, but he had a very open and friendly nature and was thus accepted by the neighbouring kids rather being picked on for being different as might have happened.

While Christmas 1939 had been fairly normal, this year he knew it was likely to be very different. Tommy still believed in Father Christmas and his parents hadn’t wanted to risk upsetting him by telling him he didn’t exist. Of course other kids had told him that, but Tommy simply didn’t believe them – after all he had come last Christmas hadn’t he? He was though afraid that Father Christmas would not come this year because it would be unsafe for him to do so. Not only was there the blackout which he had managed to get through last year, but now there were aeroplanes and bombs and anti-aircraft guns firing. What if Santa’s sleigh was hit by one of their shells? Or perhaps he might be blinded by the glare of the searchlights and lose his way? It was a very troubled Tommy who went to bed that Christmas Eve.

Normally when the air raid sirens went off Tommy’s parents would rush with him to the nearby community shelter. The sirens had been heard almost every night but that evening they didn’t sound. Perhaps thought Tommy’s parents and many others, the Germans had decided to have an unofficial truce for Christmas. But sometime in the evening Tommy woke hearing a noise outside. He wondered if it was Father Christmas and just had to take a peek, especially as he could see through the blackout blind covering his window the glow of a nearby searchlight. He got out of bed and went to lift the blind a little to peek out, but let go of the cord and it flew up to reveal the whole window. That would not have been so bad were it not that Tommy always slept with a little night light so now light was visible outside. He couldn’t reach the cord to pull the blind back down and panicked when he hear a knocking at the front door and a voice yelling. He heard his father stumbling to open the door and then angry voices, after which he heard his father coming upstairs and into his room.

“What do you think you’re doing Tommy? You know you’re not supposed to touch the blind. Now we’re showing light to any German pilot who may be up there.”

“I’m sorry Daddy. I heard a noise and thought it was Father Christmas, so I just had so look. I’m sorry” said Tommy who was crying already.

“You’ll be even more sorry when I’ve finished with you lad” said his father who with no more ado picked Tommy up, sat down on the edge of the bed and laid Tommy across his knees. Tommy felt the back of his nightshirt being lifted up. He knew what was about to happen.

“Please Daddy...don’t!” he said in a plaintive voice and tried to put his little hand back to protect his bottom but his father grabbed it in his own left hand and pinned it to Tommy’s back. Mr. Green was a tall well-built man who worked at the docks. His hands were big and rough from the manual work he did. One smack from his right hand virtually covered Tommy’s little backside. Tommy had been spanked before of course, but those spanking had been probably no more than half a dozen smacks. Tonight though Mr. Green was angry; his first decent night’s sleep for ages had been disturbed by his son’s stupidity and worse the warden was bound to tell everyone in the street that the Greens had been showing a light. Thus tonight he smacked Tommy longer and harder than before. Tommy was soon wailing and pleading; tears and snot ran down his little face, while his bottom took on the colour of a fire engine. Finally the spanking stopped and his father placed him back in bed on his stomach. Tommy continued to cry softly into his pillow until he heard a high pitched whistling noise and then...

Tommy woke up in an unfamiliar bed. When he looked round he was in a large room in which were many other beds and walking up and down were ladies in strange dresses. One of them looked over and seeing he was awake came across.

“You had us worried Tommy you’ve been to sleep for a long time – so long you’ve almost missed Christmas Day. How are you feeling now? How is your arm?”

Tommy looked down at his arm which he saw was in plaster from the shoulder down to the wrist.

“Where am I? What happened?”

“You’re in hospital. A bomb fell on your house. Fortunately the ARP men soon found you and you only seem to have a very badly broken arm and a bruised backside.”

“Where’s Mummy and Daddy?”

The nurse had been expecting the question and hoped that her response seemed truthful.

“They’ll be along shortly. You should have another nap before they get here.”

Tommy accepted what she said; but in fact his parents had not been located and it was believed that they were dead under the rubble of their house. Tommy dropped off to sleep and was woken later by the noise of people visiting the boy in the bed next to his. He heard snatches of their conversation even though they were talking quietly. ‘Poor young lad.’..... ‘Guess he doesn’t know yet.’.... ‘At Christmas too’...... ‘Not fair’..... ‘Wonder if he has any other relations.’

Slowly realisation dawned on him. His parents were dead and he would never see them again. What’s more it was all his fault for letting the blind shoot up and show the light at which the bomb had been aimed. Tommy rolled over, buried his face into his pillow and sobbed his heart out until finally he was cried out and dropped off into an uneasy sleep again.

This time when he woke the room was in darkness, but when he looked to his right there was a Christmas tree in front of which he could also see a small baby’s crib. It wasn’t really a Christmas tree of course but a small evergreen shrub one of the nurses had brought in and which had been decorated. In front of both were a number of lit candles giving a flickering illumination.  Standing to the side of them was a small group of nurses who began to sing:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed

The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.

The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay

The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.


The cattle……..


And then from his left he heard a sound that was rather like a cow mooing. He rolled over again and there standing on crutches by his bed was his mother with one of her legs in plaster and alongside her in a wheelchair was his father with both of his hands bandaged while another bandage covered the top of his head and the side of his face. His father once again made a mooing noise and in his bandaged hands he held the stuffed black and white cow that Tommy had always slept with for as long as he could remember ever since his father had won it at a fair. The cow, ‘Daisy’, was now more black and greyish brown than its original black and white and one ear was missing, but Tommy could recognise her and his Mum & Dad.

He pushed himself up in bed and a big smile it up his previously tear stained face.

“I thought I’d deaded you” he said.

His Mum & Dad both laughed before his Dad replied,

“No son, it’ll take more than a German bomb to kill off me an’ your Mum.”

“But it was all my fault for showing the light.”

“Don’t be silly Tommy. It were just coincidence – and….. I’m sorry for spanking you as hard as I did. That were wrong, but I were angry and I shouldn’t have spanked you when I were angry. Does it still hurt?” added his Dad in a whisper.

“Not now you’re here” replied Tommy and a few tears started to roll down his cheeks again.