Northern Ireland

Dear Santa letter from 1932 turns up in Belfast archive

"Dear Santa Claus, I would have written sooner but mammy had no ink and she says it is rude to write with pencil."

Image copyright Belfast City Council archive

This is an extract from a letter to Santa written by an eight-year-old Northern Ireland boy at the height of the Great Depression in 1932.

In it, the boy, Bobbie, asks for a school bag and a pair of boots.

He tells Santa his father was a "soldier at the war but the war men did not give him a pension".

Now, he says, "daddy is in the hospital over a year now and he only wants a pipe and some plug".

Bobbie's letter describes the struggles his family faced on a day-to-day basis.

He tells Santa Claus his mother, who was a cook for soldiers at the war, needed new shoes, "for I saw her mending hers with a bit of old belt".

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Media captionThe letter to Santa was was found in Belfast City Council's archive

He apologises for his writing "as I need new glasses", but adds that his schoolmaster says he is a good scholar.

Bobbie asks Father Christmas if he knows anyone who has any old history books to give away.

"I would like some as I am going to be a missionary when I am big."

But he adds: "If you have not enough money for all, I will do without the school bag as poor daddy needs his smoke."

The letter, written from the now non-existent Old Lodge Road, was found in Belfast City Council's archive.

Originally addressed to Santa, the letter found its way to the hands of the Belfast lord mayor at the time, Sir Crawford McCullagh.

Matthew Woods from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) said it is still a mystery as to how the letter landed in the lord mayor's office.

"During that time, in 1932, there was the ex-servicemen's Christmas relief fund," he said.

Image copyright Belfast City Council archive

"As the father was in hospital, and this is just speculation, but I believe that this letter ended up with the lord mayor just because of that."

At the time, Belfast had high numbers of unemployment.

The region went through a period of economic decline after World War One between 1914 and 1918 and the collapse of Wall Street in 1929.

The city's linen and shipbuilding industries that helped Belfast become an industrial giant in the mid-1800s were crippled by low export prices.

Social overcrowding in the city led to poor sanitation and ill health.

Image copyright Belfast City Council archive

The "outdoor relief fund" Bobbie referred to would have provided food, tobacco and basic everyday needs to people who met its strict criteria.

A special ex-serviceman's Christmas fund helped some locals in the holiday season at the time.

"It was a very bleak time in that Christmas period," Mr Woods said.

"The Christmas fund was basically to help the ex-serviceman gain a sense of importance after the war, that they were still being thought of."

What happened to Bobbie?

Although the family's names have been redacted by PRONI because of the Data Protection Act, Mr Woods is optimistic that Bobbie may have received some or all of his Christmas wishes.

"I would have a firm belief that the lord mayor would have responded," he said.

"The heart-wrenching thing is [Bobbie] is willing to give up a school bag just so his father's pipe can be bought."

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