Memories of A 1950 British Christmas

I was reminded of the city I grew up in when images of the tornado that shattered the towns in Kentucky were shown on TV and online recently. Our city after the blitz looked exactly like that…. and it was not until I was a teen that the city workers had finally cleared away the last of the debris and rebuilt our city completely.

Plymouth, England, After A Raid – 1941

Plymouth Reduced to Rubble after A Raid – 1949

This was bad, but after London, the worst bombed city in England was Liverpool.

Christmas 1950 was still bleak, I was five years old and Christmas that year was to be austere, to say the least, but I was not aware of that at the time. It is only with age that I remember and think wow! That was hard.

WW2 had finally ended in November 1945 the year and month I was born. Our city of Plymouth was battered and bombed, and by the time I was born, rationing and shortages were still all over the country which lasted until I was nine years old!

I often think, as so-called ‘victors’ in the War, shouldn’t we have been better off and not ‘on the rations’ until I was nine years old?

One person’s ration for a week.

There were few Christmas trees or decorations, At our primary school, we cut up strips of newspaper, glued them together to make paper chains to hang in the classroom.

We did the same at home. Occasionally, if you were lucky we could buy coloured strips of paper but mostly it was the newspaper chains. Dad would go out and find some Mistletoe and Holly to put around the mantlepiece.

We did not have a tree at home, but we all had fun at school, making the ‘decorations’ we sang Christmas carols and exchanged homemade cards coloured with old, worn down crayons. We always had a Carol Service at school before we finished for the year.

We had no books or school library but our teacher read out loud to us each Friday and she finished the book the last Friday before we broke up for the Christmas holidays. I remember the book, it was called ‘ Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw. (1)

Back to Christmas 1950. Below, is a photo of me, Dad and his mother, Emily Marion. It always makes me laugh as I am wearing my ** National Health Service** free glasses- hence the gawky look! (I hated those glasses with a passion and once buried them in the garden!) (2)

In this photo, we were shopping in the Nissan huts, temporary metal huts set up for various bombed-out shops until re-building could commence in our blitz-wrecked city. and I was meeting Santa.

Looking at this photo now, I see that I was not exactly dressed appropriately” for the weather. Severe shortages were still in effect, and although I was warm I do remember my legs always being cold, after the fashion of those days!

The photo below was taken in 1943, The Nissan huts were still in use in my photo above.

A view of the busy Market Hall in Plymouth, showing that Woolworth’s has opened a large stand in the market. The main F W Woolworth & Co. Ltd. store had been severely damaged during an air raid.

There was not much available for Christmas foods, but my Dad would go late in the evening, as the stalls were closing, to get the cheap ‘end of the day goods’ like apples that were slightly bruised, or some pieces of holly or mistletoe or a few small oranges which only appeared at Christmastime.

Nuts were popular but we would see them only at Christmas and they were very expensive, so it was traditional to put a few nuts in childrens’ pillowcases along with a small orange. We usually had two or three big walnuts, still in their shells in our pillowcases. There were no ‘stockings’ to hang up. We put pillowcases hung over the bedknob at the end of the bed for our gifts and I carried on that tradition with my children.

Most of the gifts were either homemade or knitted and always wrapped in newspaper. We did not care what it was wrapped in, we had presents! I do not remember feeling deprived of anything.

That year, 1950, only certain meats were off ration such as reindeer, horse, rabbit and whale meat was also on offer. If I ate them, I cannot claim to have a memory of it! If we had a chicken or duck we were very lucky or rich. Usually, it was lamb or pork.

1949: Workers rolling out the whalemeat roll from a conveyor belt at a Slough factory. Whalemeat will soon make its bow to the public and it will be unrationed and off points. It can be served as luncheon meat, warmed in a frying pan as a breakfast food or served cold with a salad…..Yum!!

Three years after the War ended, restrictions on food were gradually being lifted. Petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950. . Flour was ‘off ration’ on 25th July, followed by clothes on 15th March 1949. Although on the 19th of May 1950, rationing ended for canned and dried fruits chocolate biscuits treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat. In September 1950 soap was off ration and became a very popular Christmas gift!

We were still having to queue for food, and often it was sold out, by the time we reached the head of the queue, so our Christmas pudding and cakes had carrots added to them, to sweeten and bulk it up. Even when I was older in the early 1960s, and learning to bake and cook at school, we still added carrots to our Christmas cakes and puddings. (3)

We all ate a lot of ‘organ meats’ such as liver and onions and occasionally, when they could be picked in the fields, with mushrooms too. Today, we would add bacon to the liver and onions. Steak and kidney pies were and still are, a favourite in England. I do remember eating calves’ brains – on toast!

Liver And Onions

(Photo from https://foodimentary.com)

Oh, and ‘Brawn’ or ‘Braun’ made with a whole pigs head, when you could get one. Tongue, ears, brain, eyes. Boiled for hours with various herbs and spices cooled, and then everything was removed from the head then pressed in a mold overnight.

Sliced and served cold in a salad, on a Summer day it really was delicious. I believe it is known here, in Quebec, as ‘headcheese’?

Brawn

Tripe and onions were very popular too. Tripe comes from the stomach lining of farm animals and, I remember Granny telling me, it was a wonderful source of protein and would make my hair and nails grow. Still served in many countries around the world, I think in the UK it originated in the county of Yorkshire.

Tripe Before Cooking in Milk, Herbs And Onions

I ate it all. What did I know or care, what I was eating?? I had a full tummy. Today, I do not take Christmas for granted even with all the goodies available because, although austere bleak and not much around in Christmas, 1950 I do not remember ever being hungry. Plus our dietary restrictions were not a bad thing for our health. As a five-year-old, I was frequently cold, yes, but hungry? Never! I was a lucky one.

SOURCES

(1) Many years later on 25th December 1964 when I was 19, the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ came out. I remember sitting in the theatre watching it and thinking “I know this story”….of course, it was based on the book Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw that teacher used to read to us every Friday.

(2) Before the National Health Service was created in 1948, patients were generally required to pay for their health care. Free treatment was sometimes available from charitable voluntary hospitals. Some local authorities operated hospitals for local ratepayers (under a system originating with the Poor Laws).
History of the National Health Service – Wikipedia

(3) http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/4/newsid_3818000/3818563.st

A short video of Plymouth after the Blitz Raid, 1941. https://www.facebook.com/ForcesTV/videos/plymouth-marks-80-years-since-1941-blitz-raids-in-ww2/140680627959404/

The first items to go on points rationing were tinned meats, tinned fish and tinned beans; later, points rationing was applied to most tinned goods, dried fruits, cereals, legumes, biscuits, etc. When points rationing was first introduced, everyone had 16 points per person every four weeks. British Wartime Food – CooksInfohttps://www.cooksinfo.com › Cuisines

4 thoughts on “Memories of A 1950 British Christmas”

  1. My Mam and her family were from Wales. The meats you describe that were eaten in England during the Blitz were the usual meats eaten in Wales–long before any Blitz. My Mamgu (Welsh for “grandmother) gave us Liver and Onions, Tripe and all sorts of organ meats–because they were eaten back in Wales–when we all lived in Brooklyn, New York.

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    1. Thanks for this, Lynne. Most of my family are from Wales too and were familiar with all those organ meats, they were cheap and very nutritious and yes, eaten before any wars too. I think during the war years they became popular because they were not on the ‘ration’ and were easier to obtain. Thanks for reading my story!

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  2. Another cracking story Mar, thanks. I remember my dad eating the offal, especially the tripe and chitlins ( small intestine of some animal, fried 🤢).

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