13 December 2014

13th December 2014

Another Saturday, another anniversary. Last week we looked at the Radio Times from 1964, today it's 1914. While the Christmas focus has been on the battlefield football, there's a wealth of information about what was happening back home. First though, here's a 100 year old version of A Christmas Carol. No Muppets, no music. You'll just have to make up your own:

Anyway, back to the war at home. In his book, The Fateful Year: England 1914, Mark Bostridge describes how:
...the celebration of Christmas was considered a patriotic duty, the only concession to the war, now four months old, being the replacement of tinsel and paper chains with strings of brightly coloured allied flags. In London, the West End was thronged. In the suburbs, poulterers fairly bulged with geese and turkeys; happily, the cost of Christmas dinner would be only a touch more expensive than in peacetime. All the same, those who went out, baskets on arms, couldn't help but notice that this wasn't any old Christmas. According to the writer Katherine Mansfield, on Oxford Street the shop windows were filled with "khaki and wool and pots of Vaseline and marching socks". More poignantly, the department stores had baskets prominently on display into which shoppers could drop gifts for "Our Men at the Front". Among the more popular presents for soldiers were "tinder lighters with their natty little plaited rope and striker" and – oh, how the heart aches to read this! – "waterproof squares for trench seats".
Another story of the time I find fascinating is how paranoia led people to suspect German spies were everywhere:
The next delusion was that of the grateful German and the Tubes. The commonest form of the story was that an English nurse had brought a German officer back from the door of death, and that in a burst of gratitude he said at parting, “I must not tell you more, but beware of the Tubes in April (1915).” As time wore on the date was shifted forward month by month, to September, when it died of expectation deferred. We took the trouble to trace this story from mouth to mouth until we reached the second mistress in a London Board School. She declared that she had had it from the charwoman who cleaned the school, but that lady stoutly denied that she had ever told so ridiculous a story.
This early urban myth is from Chapter 4 of Basil Thomson's book about his work in the Police and Secret Service, and you can read lots more about popular delusions in my blogpost here.

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