Over the last seven years there have been some amazing guests in the run up to Christmas who have shared stories about their own memories of this time of year or their festive fiction. In the next four weeks I will be repeating some of those posts, updated with the authors recent books and reviews.
My apologies to Joy as her post should have gone out Monday but the blog administrator!!! had a senior moment..
Today my guest is the witty and entertaining Joy Lennick who wrote a memoir, My Gentle War about her evacuation to Wales during World War II.. This is her recollection of Christmas during that time, and a recent review for the book.
My Welsh Christmases by Joy Lennick.
With no yard-stick to measure my early life and experiences, which were often common-place and repetitive, while happy, when thrust into a different, alien, while fascinating world, all the nuances and happenings sketched themselves more deeply on my mind.
At seven, I had never been in a war before and my innocence painted a different picture to the reality.
Sometimes, I had played ‘war games’ with my two brothers, whereby we shot at each other with brightly coloured lead soldiers, which could be ‘resuscitated’ at will, despite their wounded cries…on a grey, cardboard fort.
As Dad wrote in his diary: September. We are at war with Germany; 9th Leave. Arrived Dagenham at 12.50 am. Left for Merthyr Tydfil at 3.40 pm with Lila and the kiddies until Monday 12th.And then?
As far as we were concerned, we were going on holiday. War was just a three lettered word and Hitler a faceless, far-flung baddie, although we were – later – to ridicule and imitate his goose-step and salute in the school playground-after we saw him in newsreels. But, whatever was happening abroad, we were consumed by excitement. Steam train rides were, after all, a rarity, and the prospect of living on a mountain appealed after pancake-flat Dagenham. (The only frightening thing, talk of a Welsh dragon…)
Separation from our parents was a shock, softened by our aunt Sal’s kindness and cooking…And I found further solace by joining the library and avidly reading Brothers Grimm’s lurid tales, and stories by Hans Christian Anderson, plus countless other authors by candlelight. It was the start of an endless love affair with reading, and eventually writing.
I wrote a memoir about my early life which covers more of the above, but as this is about Christmas, I’ll concentrate on that part of the book, and what children don’t get excited about that special time of the year?!
Although we had seen snow before, we had never seen ‘Welsh’ snow…and, believe it or not, we found it an adventure to practically dig our way through to the outside loo – at first that is!! (Wiping our bots on the Merthyr Express appalled but we soon got used to it…)
Letters informed us that Dad had joined his unit in France (No guns fired…yet!) he wrote, and Mum joined us for the Christmas period.
“Young enough to become overheated at the thought of what the 25th would bring, Terry, Bryan and I spent hours making colourful paper chains and putting up bells, holly and mistletoe, with the grown-ups assistance. When asked to Pop to Powell’s for some sugar, by Aunt Sal, I exited at speed, for I truly delighted in entering his grocer’s shop (a few door down) – my arrival signaled by a bell. My nose was in absolute heaven amid the mingling aromas of fruit: glace and dried, a cornucopia of biscuits displayed in tilted tins with glass tops revealing a mouth-watering selection: temptresses all…iced gems, Garibaldi, custard creams and chocolate fingers, to name but four favourites. Then there were jars upon jars of varied sweets: lemon sherbert dabs which made you cough, strawberry cushions and aniseed balls (which gave the impression you were suffering from mumps), et al. The piece de resistance was gold and silver embossed boxes of ’luxury’ (Christmas) chocolates, embellished with huge scarlet satin ribbon bows, high up on the shelf away from prying fingers….Mr. Powell’s shop was a proboscis paradise and I enjoyed watching him pat huge mounds of butter with fancy, grooved wooden ‘bats.’ I stayed in his shop far too long and Aunt Sal would sometimes scold: Dew, where’ve you been? Timbuktu?
Christmas puddings bubbled under their white cloth covers in the hot oven, and I loved helping Mum place tiny silver balls, miniature holly and Santa Claus decorations on the skating rink surface of the iced cake. Everything was home-made then. We excitedly received parcels from our kind aunts, the contents of which were secreted away until that magical morning, which didn’t disappoint….We children were kept quiet with our gifts: cars and puzzles for the boys, a doll’s cot with enviable bedding, a doll and book for me. Mum said it would be perfect if Dad could have been there and grew pensive, but Uncle Bryn soon had her laughing again.”
We children, of course, woke early on that special day and drew our initials in the frosted glass of the window before rushing back to the warmth of our cocoon, grabbing our net stockings en route. Usually bought in the market or Woolworths, they contained all sorts of treasures. Always present was a silver-wrapped Clementine and a piece of coal for luck, a comic, tin whistle or flute, ‘mock’ cigarettes – which we smoked with panache…and a miniature chocolate bar collection (which gradually dwindled as rationing took hold!) Sometimes, there was a tiny, celluloid doll with garish feathers stuck to her extremities for me and small cars/trucks/aeroplanes for the boys. Our main present(s (when relatives were generous) were downstairs.
We didn’t always have a Christmas tree that I recall. God, and Jesus, played vital roles in early Christmases and we attended various thanksgiving concerts over the years in Chapel and Seion. I prayed each night: For the poor children in Poland! as instructed by Mum and added one for: My Daddy, please send him home and also end the war. But, of course, he did no such thing and I wondered if he was Having tea with Lizzie the Bogie who was a fortune-teller and lived up the Bogie Road. She used to say odd things, like – to her only son: who liked swimming in the lake when the weather was fine: You come ‘ome drowned and I’ll bloody-well kill yew!
Sadly. our second Christmas in Wales was marked by two tragedies. My dear Uncle Bernard, aged twenty-two (Dad’s youngest brother), a navigator in the Royal Air Force, flying somewhere over the Atlantic as an escort, was reported missing and never did come home. And Mum’s second cousin, Islwyn – an only child – was killed in Nant-Y-Ffinn mine nearby, when a ton of coal fell, killing him instantly. He wasn’t even eighteen-years-old. Mum said: What with Uncle Bernard missing and cousin Islwyn dead, as well as your Dad being in France, it’s the worst Christmas I can ever remember. And, although us children were mainly in an ‘ignorant bubble,’ I can recall sobbing into my pillow for Uncle Bernard, and Islwyn had been so full of beans, had a great singing voice and was teaching me the Time Step. The whole mountain mourned his loss. I knew what Mum meant when she said: Coal costs far more than what we pay the coal-man at the door! .
Fortunately, war’s end, and our immediate family emerged Stirred but not too shaken! and most of our later Christmases are recalled for happier reasons. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la!
My Gentle War a memoir, is about my paternal and maternal families and some of my experiences as an evacuee, especially to Wales, which still owns a chunk of my heart! Some of my Dad’s diary entries are included as they were such a contrast to mine!
It is the story of a young girl and her family. Ripped away from the home she loved, from her friends, and familiar surroundings, she spends her formative years in the comparative safety of the Welsh Valleys. With the World at War, and her father sent to the battlefields of Europe, her war is fought holding back tears whilst waiting for news of her father, never knowing whether she will see him again. This is the story of a young girl learning to live a new life, holding her family together in unfamiliar surroundings, all the while dreaming of the father that was forced to leave her. My Gentle War is Joy’s story.
One of the recent reviews for the book
This memoir focuses primarily on the years 1939 through 1941 when the author was 9-11 years old, a child living in Wales with her younger brothers during WWII. The children were sent to Wales to escape the more dangerous areas around London.
This isn’t a harsh story. It’s a recounting of life from the perspective of a child and is, therefore, full of fun and imagination and resilience. There are “ear-wigging” glimpses into the adult world, news of the war, and letters from the author’s dad who was serving in France. The sad and confusing realities of war surely intrude on daily life, but the focus is on friends and relatives, memorable gatherings and events. There are new trousers, dance performances, and games of truth or dare!
Lennick’s writing is witty and conversational, and she includes a handful of poems commemorating particular memories. Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the brief jump ahead at the end to the conclusion of the war. The feeling of joy is palpable in the pages.
Also by Joy Lennick
About Joy Lennick
Having worn several hats in my life: wife, mum, secretary, shop-keeper, hotelier; my favourite is the multi-coloured author’s creation. I am an eclectic writer: diary, articles, poetry, short stories and five books. Two books were factual, the third as biographer: HURRICANE HALSEY (a true sea adventure), fourth my Memoir MY GENTLE WAR and my current faction novel is THE CATALYST. Plenty more simmering…
Supposedly ‘Retired,’ I now live in Spain with my husband and have three great sons.
Thanks for dropping in today and I know that Joy would love your feedback… thanks Sally.