Rochdale’s Wartime Christmases

Very young children during World War 2 had no knowledge of a normal Christmas. As the Rochdale Observer in 1942 put it : ‘The beautifully lighted shops, the host of good things tastefully displayed in the windows and the busy scenes in the evening streets – all are missing for the time being, but they will come again and to that time we can all look forward with confidence and hope.’

Things were very different then. A black-out and rationing was in force, there was advice from the Ministry of Fuel and Power to use less coal : ‘5lb of coal saved will purchase 100 bullets for a Bren gun,’ church bells were not allowed as this signalled invasion and there was a debate about closing cinemas on Sundays due to possible enemy action. Restricted travel meant a ‘stay-at-home Christmas’ for many although there was free bus travel for servicemen and women funded, some say, by Gracie Fields.

Life had to go on though, Bamford’s advertised Christmas gifts (ladies brush set at 3/6 and gold signet rings for 5/6) and ten cinemas kept their doors open. Ellen Smiths offered tours and the Carlton and other ballrooms in town ran dances throughout the war, H M Forces admitted at reduced price.      


Food shortages meant austerity. Lancashire Cheese and suet were in short supply and there was an embargo on the supply of turkeys, one reader’s letter to the Observer suggesting that there was a 1000-1 chance of getting one in Rochdale over Christmas. Even so, local grocers had offers, Duckworth’s ‘Christmas Fare on the home front’ offering Christmas Puddings from 9d to 3/6 and Redmans (‘will serve anybody’) selling dried eggs at 1/- a quarter.

However, a small family’s meat ration would get only a small chicken for Christmas dinner. Fruit and nuts were nowhere to be found so the Christmas cake was plain if you had one at all. There had been an appeal for people with allotments and gardens to grow food for crops ‘early digging leads to healthier crops,’ the advice being to be thrifty but to have a good time. And the Ministry of Food offered a ‘Recipe for War and Peace Christmas Pudding’ suggesting a cupful of grated potato and raw carrot as filler ingredients.

Outside of buying from Toy Fairs, children’s Christmas gifts were often homemade and fashioned from recycled materials. There was no wrapping paper due to the Ministry of Supply drive to conserve materials and Christmas cards were often hand-written.

Charity abounded though. The Observer ran a Cigarette Fund for servicemen and Mayor Ernest Thornton in 1942 asked Rochdale people to host soldiers over Christmas who were away from home. 50 households signed up although the scheme fell flat as too few serviceman took up the offer. A similar scheme ran in 1944 for Free French Forces (‘preferably in twos’) stationed in Manchester.

Gifts for servicemen were collected (a cornet and a wireless requested by two soldiers in 1941 !) as were Red Cross donations for prisoners of war sent in time for Christmas Day. Presents were also distributed by the Prisoner of War Committee in Rochdale to the children of PoWs and a ‘jolly party’ held at Champness Hall for them, 60 children receiving 10/- each. The Observer noted that ‘We hope that next year their daddies will be back with them.’

In 1943 men of the Rochdale Fire Brigade made presents such as wooden pull-along trucks, pull-string figures, pencil cases and dolls which were given out by Father Christmas at the Fire Station Christmas Party, two comic firemen dressed up as reindeer accompanying Santa.

Times were very hard for soldiers and civilians alike, particularly at Christmas. However, it seems that Rochdale people – as always – made the best of what they had.

1943 Christmas War Quiz (answers below)

1              How many yolks are there in 1/3 packet of dried eggs ?

2              How much priority milk are children under 6 allowed ?

3              Is the following true or false ?                     ‘A child needs more meat than a man does.’

4              What is (or are) Rose Hips ?

  1. The name of a famous woman spy ?
  2. Pods of wild Rose rich in vitamin C ?
  3. The name of a Russian folk song ?

5              Which 2 of the following are given by the Government for children under six years of age ?

  1. Cocoa
  2. Cod liver oil
  3. Cornflour
  4. Tomato juice
  5. Orange juice
Quiz answers1 – 12 yolks   2 – 7 pints 3 – true 4 – Pods of wild rose     5 – b) and e)