May I wish you a Happy New Year. It seems that 2021 will be a year of uncertainty as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, yet a year of hope as the roll-out of vaccines gathers apace. It was addressing the unknown that made the task of George VI’s Christmas broadcast to the Empire so difficult in 1939. Wanting to end his speech with a word of hope and inspiration he struggled over what he should say. That was until his 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth put in his hands the words of a poem. When the King quoted part of it, it caught the imagination of the people and summed up how they were feeling. The speech received great acclaim and postcards were produced that showed the quote the King had used.
This postcard belonged to my father and was one of several he treasured from his wartime childhood that he passed on to me. He felt the King’s speeches and his Christian faith were an inspiration to the British people in those six long years of war.
I have alluded to the King’s use of the quote in the opening paragraph of my latest short eBook ‘Vacuees Have Christmas Too as a way of illustrating the inspirational impact His Majesty had on ordinary men and women. I hope you have enjoyed the Christmas read and the insight it gave into a wartime Cornish Christmas. Thank you for the feedback you’ve given and I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of your questions.
Jemima and her family are fictional characters and are not really based on anyone, just typical of the mothers who accompanied their children in evacuating to Cornwall. Some of the characters they interact with are local historical figures such as the train guard Wallace Coombe or Mrs Robins who ran the bakehouse in Church Street in Gorran Haven. Any representation of them is purely my interpretation based on the limited sources available.
The anti-invasion measures at Gorran Haven included scaffolding across the beach and several concrete block anti-tank obstacles across the exit from the beach. One can be seen in the video clips on the landing page of this website. Most of the younger fishermen of the village had joined up or were called up, leaving just a handful of the older men to continue to fish out of Gorran Haven.
The A.A. Milne poem ‘They’re Changing Guard At Buckingham Palace’ was popular with children in the 1930s. A year after my story was set Ann Stephens, a ten-year-old London born child actress, recorded it as a song and I still have my parent’s record, though sadly it’s not an original 1941 copy.
The references to the wireless programmes on the BBC Home Service are entirely correct. Thanks to the BBC Genome Project you can view the Radio Times and see the programme details of every edition from 1923 to 2009. This is a fantastic resource, and while there were several occasions during the war the programmes altered from those listed due to a variety of circumstances, the vast majority are accurate.
Mount Zion was the Congregational Church in the village during the war. It continues, though now free from any denominational ties, in the same building (though completely renovated) as Haven Church. Its annual carol service is still held by candlelight with myriads of candles in every vantage point and remains central to the village’s celebration of Christmas.
My family suffered in the Great War. One of my grandfather’s brothers was killed and his body never found. He is listed on the Le Touret Memorial. Another brother died from wounds and is buried at Wimereux. A third brother was buried alive on three occasions and dug up. Although he survived the war he had lung and stomach problems as a result and died young. Their father who had also served in France died in 1920 having never fully recovered from his war experiences. So it was family history that motivated Robert’s account of his father’s loss in the story.
And penultimately, no I have not made a mistake in saying Father Christmas only had 8 reindeer in 1940. Rudolph was the invention of Robert May, an employee of the Montgomery Ward Department Store in the USA, as part of an advertising campaign in 1939. It was not until the release of Gene Autry’s record of May’s brother-in-law’s song Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer in 1949 that British children began to hear of a ninth reindeer. Children in 1940 Britain would have been familiar with the eight reindeer named in Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem ‘A Visit From St Nicholas’. Indeed, my father learned it at school and could quote it even late in his adult life!
Finally, despite Wikipedia and several internet sites stating so, the cross on Dodman Point is not a memorial to sailors or a war memorial. It was erected by the Rev. George Martin purely for the reasons stated on its inscription as quoted in the story. The maritime event claimed to be the reason for its erection, the running aground of HMS Lynx and HMS Thrasher on the headland, actually occurred a year after it had been put up!
Funny how people are ready to believe in magical flying reindeer but shy away from talking about a monument to the return of Jesus, who is the real reason for Christmas.
Anyway, I hope that’s answered your questions, and until next month, stay safe, stay well and tread safely into the New Year in the way that is “better than light and safer than a known way.”