WEEKS 182-183: NOT EASY TO SAY OR TO FIND A HAPPY CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR
Monday 17 to Sunday 30 December 1917
The year 1917 in Britain had been plagued by a shortage of food and fuel. The country depended heavily on imported goods, and Germany’s aggressive submarine campaign throughout 1916 and 1917 had had dramatic and far-reaching consequences. In the autumn of 1917 alone, some 1,500 merchant ships were sunk with a loss of 2.25 million tons of goods. Queuing for bread, potatoes and coal became something of a national pastime, and the winter of 1917-1918 was shadowed by riots and threats of industrial action in the face of rapidly rising food prices. Voluntary rationing, which had been introduced in February 1917, had not been successful, nor had tokenisms such as making the feeding of birds or the throwing of rice at weddings a criminal offence. The War Cabinet was reluctant to introduce compulsory rationing, fearing that it would lead to further social unrest or to the development of a black market. Eventually however the Cabinet was forced to bow to the inevitable. On 22 December 1917, Lord Rhondda, the recently appointed Minister of Food Control, initiated a national scheme of rationing approved by the government and implemented by local authorities.
For the Armstrong family, Christmas 1917 was particularly difficult, being their first Christmas since Pat’s death. Determined to spare their mother unnecessary grief, Jess and her sisters decided to remove her from Folkestone and to spend the holiday season at Bridgnorth instead with their Aunt Zoo and her husband Harold Welch.
Monday 17 December
Tom, Zooie & I went down to shop. I gave out things1 etc: before we went out. Muz wrote letters. After lunch, Muz, Zooie, Tom & I went out, & did more shopping, & Zooie got me a golf coat for Xmas & a blouse for Tom. On our way back Muz went in to see Mr Hindley, about Duskey, & he was awfully rude, so she went in to see Mrs Paul & I sewed all evening, I cut out & began the breeches yesterday. Muz & Zooie had their bath before dinner. We went to bed at about 11. E.2 didn’t come up today.
Tuesday 18 December
“Did some shopping”
E. didn’t come up. I gave out things etc. Then we went down & did some shopping. I sewed in the afternoon. The Raid signal went at six, but nothing happened till about 8, just as we were finishing dinner, so we took our plates into the hall, & finished pudding there! The firing was pretty loud, & we heard the Gotha engine just above our heads. It lasted till ten, but wasn’t nearly as bad as the last, as there wasn’t so much firing. We had tea & biscuits before we went to bed, & Muz settled to send Tom & Heppie off to Cantreyn tomorrow, by the early train, so they had to pack their things again.
Wednesday 19 December
Tom & Heppie left by the 9 train, I was up early, to settle about a cab etc. I gave out things etc, & did some sorting, & after lunch we went up to the guns to hear the news. We brought one down just outside the Harbour, but the pilot blew it up, & we have got two prisoners. I did up parcels for the Moyaliffe people all afternoon, at about six the Raid siren went, & we sat in the smoking room & I packed up a lot of parcels, & the guns never started at all, as they never got over this side. The “all clear” went at about nine. I went on packing parcels, & we didn’t go to bed till rather later.
Thursday 20 December
Gave out things etc. & then sorted some of our things to pack, & then packed up some more parcels for the post, & took them down, & then did some shopping. In the afternoon we got all our things packed. E. came up at tea time, as Alice3 was out for the afternoon. At about seven Uncle Jimmy arrived by the boat. E. was there, so it was alright! We went upstairs after dinner, & finished packing up parcels etc, & left things ready for the morning.
Friday 21 December
We woke up early as there were a lot of things to do before we left by the 11 train. E. came up in the morning. Miss Peters is going to look after “Wipers”, & the greenhouse. Zooie & Jimmy travelled up in one carriage, & we in the other! Then they went off & we didn’t see them again! We went to Ione’s hotel, & left Dus: there, & we three went to shop, then had a bath & went to bed early. Staying at the York Hotel. The shops were frightfully crowded, so it was awfully hard to get anything.
Letter from Canadian Red Cross Society, 14/16 Cockspur Street, London SW1, to Mrs Armstrong
Dear Mrs Armstrong.
It is not easy to say or to find a Happy Christmas this year – except among our brave men in the Hospitals. But I would send a message of very grateful thanks to the Visitors in connection with the Bureau, by whose devoted work its many activities are made possible.
The Commissioner has been much impressed by the arduous & important service rendered by our Visitors, as told in the Annual Report of our work now being despatched to Canada – & he has asked me to send you the accompanying Card in token of his appreciation.
Your fellow workers here also ask me to convey to you their greetings & kind wishes. In the name of the Bureau which it is my privilege to represent.
[Written on top of the address is the line “No acknowledgement is necessary”.]
Saturday 22 December
We were up fairly early, as we had a lot of shopping to do. The shops were packed. We shopped all morning, & then caught the one train up to Bridgnorth. The train was awfully crowded, but we had Duskey in the carriage the whole way! Zooie & Jimmy were in another carriage! We travelled with a man & his wife, who had been in the 29th Division. We arrived at about 6. I had luckily brought some biscuits for Duskey, as the [sic] couldn’t get any up here. We went to bed early, & didn’t unpack any of our things. Ione has got until the 2nd.4
Sunday 23 December
Zooie, Jimmy & Heppie went to church, & we unpacked, & wrote Christmas letters all morning, & in the afternoon Muz & Heppie went for a walk, & I worked at Muz’s “undies”. Then we unpacked our things, & got things ready for Xmas.
Monday 24 December
Muz & I went in to the town, & did a lot of shopping, & carried the things out with us. After lunch we sorted all the things for the rug & tied them up. Ione lay down, & then helped us after tea. We were busy till dinner time. Muz went up to bed early, & Uncle Jimmy played the gramophone to us, they got a new one in London the other day. We went to bed at about one. We did up little parcels of different things for the servants too.
Playing the gramophone
Tuesday 25 December
We went round before church, to give Mrs Feutril [?] & Mrs Bayliss their presents, & then walked in to church, & afterwards went in to see the Welches, & walked out with them, as they were coming for lunch. After lunch we had the rug game,5 & they all loved it, & it lasted till tea time, there were a lot of presents. Mrs Welch & Rosie stayed for tea. Some little boys came & sang carols last night, when we were at dinner. We all got a lot of presents. We didn’t stay up very late. It was much better for Muz to be here, than at Clodagh.
Wednesday 26 December
We all wrote letters all morning, & then after lunch Ione & I walked in to the town, & went to see Mrs Welch, & then Rosie walked out with us, & had tea. Zooie & Jimmy went out to shoot all afternoon, & had tea with Captain Acton. Muz wrote letters, & I sewed all afternoon, & finished the dressing jacket, & the bibbies, & began a petticoat bodice.
Thursday 27 December
Ione, Tom & I went in to the town, but all the shops were shut. We met Uncle Jimmy & walked out with him & a Mr Benjamin in the Devon Rgt, he came out here for lunch. Jimmy & Zoo went out to shoot, & Ione lay down & Muz wrote, & I worked. Then Mrs Robson came to call, but didn’t stay long. I nearly finished a black petticoat bodice for Muz. We went up straight after dinner, & had our baths, & went to bed at about 10-30.
Friday 28 December
Ione went in to the dentist, Muz wrote letters, & we all wrote nearly all morning. Zooie & Jimmy went to call on Sir Raymond Linnet [?], & Muz, Heppie & I walked into the town to shop, & then went to see Mrs Welch, the others were back, when we came in for tea. Ione lay down after lunch, & stayed there for dinner. I sewed after tea, & finished Muz’s black petticoat bodice. Janet came in & talked to us afterwards.
Saturday 29 December
Ione went down to the dentist early. It drizzled nearly all day. Muz wrote letters. Zooie & Jimmy went out to shoot, & didn’t come in, for lunch till after three. After lunch I stuck photoes [sic] in my book, & Ione lay down. After tea Tom & I wrote letters, & Muz & Heppie walked into the town, & Zooie & Jimmy went to sleep!
“Stuck photos in my book”
Sunday 30 December
Muz, Tom & I went to church. Zooie stayed in bed with a cold. Sewed nearly all afternoon, & Zooie got up for lunch. Mr Willis came for tea, & we sewed afterwards. After dinner Jimmy played the gramophone to us, & we went to bed at about ten.
Merry Christmas from Harold Welch
Merry Christmas from Harold Welch
The Armstrong family were contributing to the war effort by providing food to soldiers residing in Folkestone ⇑
Elizabeth, a domestic servant in the Armstrong household ⇑
Ione was working as an ambulance driver at the Waverley Abbey Hospital and had been given leave until 2 January 1918 ⇑
The rug game was an Armstrong family tradition which consisted of putting all the family’s presents in the centre of the room and covering them with a rug. Each family member took turns to pull out a present. If it was for them they opened it under the gaze of the whole family. If it was not for them, it was returned to the pile and one lost one’s go ⇑
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