1940: A Blitz Christmas

Keep Calm and Carry On!

This could not be more appropriate when describing what became known as ‘Blitzmas’. In December 1940, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was doing its best to wipe British cities off the map. But the British public were having none of it and were determined to have the best possible holiday they could. Time magazine reported that Christmas parties were being held in the larger air-raid shelters, which provided safety for over one million people. Even the London theatres put on the usual Christmas Pantomimes. However, everyone suffered. It was not a normal Christmas by any means.

Gifts were difficult to come by. However, the Evening Standard reported that the Oxford Street pavements were congested and had a pre-war atmosphere. Luxuries such as silk stockings or French perfume were not to be found, but there was still liqueur chocolates available, and if you were lucky, you might find some figs or Turkish delight. Wine and spirits were plentiful but brandy was rare. The most popular present that Christmas was soap!

It was a ‘recycle’ Christmas. At home, decorations for the most part, were handmade, often by the children. Due to a paper shortage, scraps of paper, old Christmas cards, old newspapers, and brown paper were used to make ornaments and decorations. Presents were often homemade gifts wrapped in brown paper or even small pieces of cloth. Hand knitted items, such as hats and scarves were made by unravelling old jumpers and war bonds were bought and given as gifts, which helped the war effort. Homemade food items, such as chutneys and jams were popular and practical presents, along with items associated with gardening, like wooden dibbers for planting.

Manchester Christmas Blitz

There was little reprieve from the misery of Blitzkrieg. Greater Manchester bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s attacks that Christmas. On the night of 22/23 December 272 tons of high explosive were dropped, and another 195 tons the following night. Almost 2,000 incendiaries were also dropped on the city over the two nights. It became known as the Christmas Blitz. In total, 684 people died and a further 2,300 were wounded with districts to the north and east of the city badly affected. At least 8,000 homes were made uninhabitable.

The royal family had to spend the holiday at a secret location in case the Nazi airmen attacked while George VI was giving his Christmas broadcast. But as a mark of solidarity with the British public, the royal Christmas card was a picture of the king and queen in the grounds of the bombed Buckingham Palace. Traditional carol singing was cancelled due to the bombing and black-out, festive lights were not to be found on the streets, and many people had to work on the 26th of December, Boxing Day, which was a public holiday.

Due to rationing and high prices, most could not afford the traditional turkey or goose. Housewives had to use all their ingenuity to find substitutes. Luckily, the Ministry of Food provided lots of information (see recipe below) and even films on the subject. (The Imperial War Museum has many examples of these.) The only concession came in the week before Christmas in 1940; the tea ration was doubled and the sugar allowance increased to 12 ounces.

It can’t have been easy to celebrate a normal Christmas with many families separated by war and loved ones fighting overseas. Even though there was a small respite from the bombing in London on Christmas and Boxing Day, by 29th December, many families were rushing for the safety of air raid shelters once more. The King’s speech on Christmas Day must have been the highlight for many families but in December 1940. the outlook still looked bleak.

The future will be hard, but our feet are planted on the path of victory, and with the help of God we shall make our way to justice and to peace.” King George VI (Christmas 1940)

In Her Last Betrayal, the sequel to Her Secret War, Sarah Gillespie spends Christmas with her family in Hampshire and is delighted to be involved in the Hursley Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of Hayfever, which they put on for the locals just before Christmas. However, it is to be a tragic Christmas that Sarah will never forget …

Her Last Betrayal will be released on 14th April. Cover reveal in the new year but pre-order now available:

Pre-Order Now!

It’s Publication Day for Her Secret War!

I am so thrilled to share the news that my new release is out in the world today. Her Secret War is the first of two books based around a young Irish girl, Sarah Gillespie. Sarah is the only one of her family to survive the North Strand bombing in May 1941 which kills 28 people and leaves hundreds homeless. Her plight resonates with the thousands who survived similar incidences throughout the war, all over the world. From the ruins of her life, Sarah must make some difficult decisions. Like many Irish, she has family in Britain and when they hold out the offer of a new life and a job, Sarah decides to leave Ireland. Unfortunately, her new life slowly falls apart as her family history catches up with her, and she is drawn into the dark world of WW2 espionage.

It’s Publication Day for Her Secret War!

New Release from Betty Walker

WARTIME WITH THE CORNISH GIRLS (Avon Books UK)

1941. The Blitz rages over London.

And even in Cornwall, the war is being fought….

When Violet loses her sister in the Blitz, she must take her nieces to safety in Cornwall. On the coast, she meets carefree chorus girl Eva, who is also running from the dangers of London.

But Porthcurno hides a secret military base and soon Violet and Eva realise there’s a battle to fight in Cornwall, too.

New Release from Betty Walker

Going to the Flicks in 1941

Like most young people in the forties, my heroine, Sarah Gillespie, in Her Secret War, is obsessed with cinema and spends all of her hard-earned, but meagre wages, on film tickets and cinema magazines such as Picturegoer Weekly. The world she sees on the silver screen is very different to her life and feeds her dreams. For someone like Sarah, growing up in a working-class part of Dublin, the regular trip to the picture house was pure escapism. During WW2, a third of most Britons went to the cinema at least once a week and it is likely the statistics were similar here in Ireland. My father often spoke of his weekly trips as a child to ‘the flicks’ with his friends, and could tell you all about the various cinemas in Dublin and the types of films they showed. Sadly, most of those cinemas are long gone now.

And then of course, there was the Hollywood glamour filling the pages of the fan magazines, which transported readers far away from the realities of war. Much like the social media influencers of today, the movie stars’ lives influenced popular culture, fashion and music.

In Britain, the fictional trials and tribulations of favourite movie stars on the screen resonated with a public reeling from the Blitz. For a couple of hours, you could forget about the bombs dropping on your neighbourhood, the discomfort of nights spent in an Anderson Shelter or your next bombing run.

Going to the Flicks in 1941

New Release from Daisy Wood

Today, I am delighted to feature the new release from Daisy Wood, The Clockmaker’s Wife. What’s more, I can highly recommend this WW2 story as I read the book recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Clockmaker’s Wife

‘A ticking time-bomb of intrigue, wrapped around stark but rich descriptions of the Blitz. An unforgettable war-time debut.’ Mandy Robotham, author of The Berlin Girl

It’s the height of the Blitz in 1940, and too dangerous for Nell Spelman and her baby daughter, Alice, to stay in London. She must leave behind her husband, Arthur, one of the clockmakers responsible for keeping Big Ben tolling. The huge clock at the Palace of Westminster has become a symbol of hope in Britain’s darkest hour, and must be protected at all costs. When Arthur disappears in mysterious circumstances, Nell suspects evil forces are at work and returns to the war-torn city to save both the man and the country she loves.

Over eighty years later in New York, Alice’s daughter Ellie finds a beautiful watch with a cracked face among her mother’s possessions, and decides to find out more about the grandmother she never knew. Her search takes her to England, where her relatives are hiding shocking secrets of their own, and where she begins to wonder whether the past might be better left alone. Could her grandparents possibly have been traitors at the heart of the British establishment? Yet Ellie feels Nell at her shoulder, guiding her towards a truth which is more extraordinary than she could ever have imagined.

The Clockmaker’s Wife is available at all good book stores and online at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Clockmakers-Wife-Daisy-Wood/dp/0008402302


A Little Bit about Daisy …

Daisy Wood worked as an editor in children’s publishing for several years before starting to write stories of her own. She has had over twenty children’s books published under various names, including the ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ series for teens, based around an English country house through the years and the servants who keep it running. She loves the process of historical research and is a keen member of the London Library, which houses a wonderful collection of old magazines and newspapers as well as books. The Clockmaker’s Wife is her first published novel for adults. She studied English Literature at Bristol University and recently completed a Creative Writing MA at City University in London, where she lives with her husband, a rescue dog from Greece and a fluffy grey cat.   

WW2: The Southampton Blitz

It is often the children who are most affected by war and WW2 was no exception. A poignant example of the terror experienced by a child is a quote from a young girl who survived the Southampton Blitzkrieg.

“There must have been some sort of warning before the sirens and when the barrage balloons went up, I knew it meant danger. I was very frightened. I used to rush down the garden to go headfirst into the shelter.”

Being within easy reach of German airfields in France, Southampton was an easy target for the Luftwaffe and a strategic one. Over the course of the war, 57 raids were carried out with approximately 2,300 bombs dropped. Six hundred and thirty one citizens were killed and 898 were seriously wounded. The damage was extensive with 45,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.   

WW2: The Southampton Blitz