Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas 1940

Swindonians celebrated a low key Christmas in 1940 following a year in which the war had bit hard.  But the town and district made sure that the most vulnerable citizens were catered for, especially the evacuees, so far from home for the festive period.

Frank Leigh produced and starred in Jack and the Beanstalk, this year’s pantomime at the Playhouse.  Leigh scored a personal triumph in his role as Dame Durden according to the Advertiser reviewer who also commented on the ‘several pleasing specialities.’

At Lethbridge Road School, children from the infant class put on a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for their mothers with Jean Hawkins in the lead role of Snow White while local children and evacuees were treated to a Christmas tea and entertainment at the Club House, Shrivenham Road provided by the GWR Social Club.

The Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs F.E. Allen made a Christmas Day visit to various homes and institutions across Swindon and district and distributed 165 threepenny pieces to children at Olive House and the Limes in Stratton. The couple also visited the GWR Medical Fund Hospital, the Isolation Hospital and the St Margaret’s Institution.  Following dinner, the Mayor and Mayoress spent a short time at the Victoria Hospital before moving onto the Maternity Home where tea was provided by the Matron and staff.

Somewhat late, presumably due to heavy work load, Santa Claus paid a New Year’s Day visit to children and mothers at the Great Western Sports Club pavilion where he handed out presents from the Christmas tree.  Miss Yvonne Sutton and her Kent Girls performed a cabaret show with Mr Raymond Sutton at the piano.  Miss Hedges contributed a fairy dance and C Gibbs songs and step dances.

In response to a government appeal, travel on the railways was down as Swindon reported a reduction in the number of passengers over the Christmas period. Although traffic during the previous weekend and across Monday and Christmas Eve was described as ‘fairly heavy’ overall numbers were considerably down on previous years.

Swindon GPO reported a reduction in Christmas mail, approximately 10% lower than during Christmas 1939.  Postal workers managed to shift more than 1,000,000 cards, letters and packages in the fortnight before Christmas.

“The demand on the staff was, as expected, exceedingly heavy,” a Post Office spokesman told the Advertiser, “but thanks to the splendid co-operation of the public, everything worked extremely smoothly.”

But not everyone had the Christmas spirit. Thieves were busy over Christmas and cleared out the WVS Mobile Canteen at the Town Hall, Swindon.  The canteen was closed at 5pm on Christmas Day but when Mrs R.B. Hick arrived to open up on Boxing Day she discovered the door had been completely removed and most of the stock had gone.  Tins of salmon, soup, sugar and packets of cigarettes valued at about £2 had been stolen.

And sadly some mean minded thieves were accused of pilfering parcels sent to troops in camp in the West of England.

“Many parcels are being delivered with wrappers torn open, string removed, boxes broken, and some of the contents missing,” reported the Advertiser.  One camp post orderly told a reporter that the parcels were received in such a bad condition that it was impossible to tell to which parcel the loose items belonged. “They have obviously been pilfered,” he said.

Christmas market

Christmas shopping

Christmas celebrations at Olive House

Yvonne Sutton and her Kent Girls

GWR Social Club Christmas party for members' children and evacuees

Frank Leigh as Dame Durden in the Playhouse pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk

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