A second Christmas at war

HMS Berwick, the first of the County Class Heavy Cruisers, built in 1924, seen here in a particularly striking distortion paint scheme.

The second Christmas of the war was very different from the first for people in Britain. A year earlier only Poland and Czechoslovakia had been occupied by the Nazis – and the ‘phoney war’ had yet to make much of an impact on peoples’ lives. The dramatic events of 1940 had seen the occupation of most of Europe – and the threat to Britain had become very real indeed.

Britain had survived the threat of invasion and beaten off the attacks on her air defences. But British towns and cities were being laid waste on a daily basis. Thousands of families up and down the country had had violent and sudden death visited upon them. Tens of thousands of people were recovering from serious injuries.

Death could come unexpectedly in any theatre of the war, even on Christmas morning. Off the coast of France an enemy cruiser suddenly appeared out of the mist and threatened a convoy. The escort ships quickly engaged – and only minutes later men were dead, with probably more dead on the German ship as well:

On the morning of the 25th December H.M. Corvette Clematis, forming part of the escort of a south-bound convoy, reported that she was engaging an enemy raider 700 miles west of Cape Finisterre. Shortly afterwards H.M.S. Berwick reported that she had sighted an enemy 8-inch cruiser, which she engaged and drove off. Owing to low visibility the enemy was lost sight of, steering to the westward and Berwick rejoined the convoy. Berwick scored one certain hit on the raider and possibly more and received several herself, having four marines killed and one seriously wounded.

HMS Berwick had had a brief encounter with the German cruiser Admiral Hipper. The dead were later named as:

BROOM, Denis W, Marine, PO/X 2701, killed
DAVISON, Robert, Corporal, PO/X 762, killed
LYONS, Reginald, Marine, PO/X 1825, killed
PAINTER, Charles, Sergeant, PO/X 22435, killed

See naval-history.net for daily Royal Navy casualties in World WarI II.

A semi-detached house which became suddenly detached when a German bomb scored a direct hit on its partner on the eastern outskirts of London.

A semi-detached house which became suddenly detached when a German bomb scored a direct hit on its partner on the eastern outskirts of London.

In London George Beardmore recorded a ‘dismal’ Christmas:

in the absence of home, friends, and relations, with only a few cards and parcels sent to us. But we were in God’s own heaven compared with many, as for instance Jones, the arthritic ex-Stock Exchange clerk who is living with his wife and two small children in freezing rooms with no cooking apparatus. Or the unknown untold thousands celebrating Christmas in shelters, the firemen, the soldiers, Stan Lock in Iceland, the conscientious objectors in farms, the lonely mothers and ruined shopkeepers, the city children living in farmhouses.

See George Beardmore: Civilians at War: Journals, 1938-46.

A woman pours a cup of beer for her husband in a narrow air raid shelter in North London, 1940.

A woman pours a cup of beer for her husband in a narrow air raid shelter in North London, 1940.

In the Libyan Desert Captain Rea Leakey had been in action since the Italian invasion of Egypt in September. He was now part of the force besieging the Italian garrison of Bardia:

Christmas Day 1940, was the same as any other day, except that each man received a tin of bully-beef to himself, and there was a double rum ration that night. Wavell sent us his greetings, but there was insufficient transport to send us turkeys and Christmas puddings. It would be wrong to say that we did not miss the usual luxuries and celebrations, yet nobody complained or grumbled. It would have taken much more than a few trifles like these to shake the high morale of this small desert force.

See Leakey’s Luck: A Tank Commander with Nine Lives

Free French soldiers attend a mass at sunrise during siege of Bardia Libya 1940

Free French soldiers attend a mass at sunrise during siege of Bardia Libya 1940

The crew of a Light Tank Mk VIB cook their Christmas dinner besides their vehicle, 31 December 1940.

The crew of a Light Tank Mk VIB cook their Christmas dinner besides their vehicle, 31 December 1940.

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