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- KAYE LE CHEMINANT
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- 10 May 2005
Christmas — 1944 — German Occupied Guernsey, Channel Islands
After 5 years of ‘occupation’ and, particularly since the D-Day Allied Invasion of France, our supplies of everything were cut off for the civilian population and for the German Forces. Our remaining ‘lifeline’ of a port on the nearby French coast, from whence a few supplies could be obtained, was now in Allied control and, on our little 9 miles x 4 miles island we, thousands of civilians and thousands of German troops, struggled to survive long enough to be liberated. Food in very short supply, mainly home-grown vegetables. Electricity and gas had to be severely rationed by turning off supplies from more-or-less sunset to sunrise — so that we were without heat or light all winter, and most of the little cooking there was, on an open fire, for which we children gathered as much tree-wood as we could find.
However the will for survival is strong, and my parents knew that the end of the War would be next year. While hoping and praying that we would all live to see that time, they were determined that Christmas would be celebrated in the traditional manner (with the exception of the food, of course!).
The little 3ft high Christmas tree, made of feathers (I still use it) had been bought for my first Christmas in 1932. It was set up on a table in the bay window at the front of the house (where I still live), and my job was to get the little boxes of baubles from the attic and decorate the tree. As the baubles were made of glass in those days, inevitably 1 or 2 did not last every Christmas but there were enough to look festive and the silver tinsel, now very crumpled and would not ‘hang’, nor was there much ‘shine’ to it, but the silver star at the top, that Mother had made years before of thick cardboard and silver paper, shone beautifully, and that last Christmas of the war was a sunny day so that our little tree and its ornaments looked its war-time best.
During the morning we noticed some soldiers on the footpath, looking over the top of the hedge at our house and one was pointing to the Christmas tree — soon there was quite a group of soldiers. For a short time we ‘enemies’ were united as Christians and my father said: “They must wish they were at home with their families and their trees”. Our room was decorated with the various paper chains that had lasted 5 years, the main worry was the very thick multi-coloured one that went across the ceiling from one side to the other — 14ft. It was ‘giving’ in several places and each year my father removed it very carefully, putting as little strain on it as possible. There was little thread left to mend clothes, let alone use for repairing paper-chains! As Dad removed the decorations in January 1945, the big chain parted in the middle. It had done its duty, keeping spirits high during the dark war-time Christmas-times, and now it could fade away, but is always remembered.
For that last Christmas of the Occupation we even had light for a few hours. A nurse friend of our family had an old-fashioned pre-World War 1 carbide lamp for her cycle (she was allowed out after curfew to nurse an old gentleman). We had the carbide lamp on the mantelpiece and provided a soft light over our little group of my grandmother, parents, 3 old friends and myself. It was just that the smell of carbide is quite atrocious and Dad said it was like having a skunk with us. Nevertheless none of the party complained and we talked about that day for many Christmases to come. As Mother said at the time: “The main thing is, we are all together”.
KAYE LE CHEMINANT
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