Although World War II did
not take a holiday, Americans at home and abroad did their best to celebrate
Christmas. Wartime separations and deprivations made festivities poignant and
bittersweet. This week’s post looks at Christmas for American servicemen and
women, and next week’s will look at Christmas on the Home
Christmas during World War II found Americans on many fronts. In
1941, only a few weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, American soldiers were
putting up a fighting retreat in the Philippines. 1942 found soldiers fighting
on Guadalcanal and New Guinea, and in Tunisia. In 1943, US forces fought on
Bougainville, New Britain, New Guinea, and in Italy. Christmas of 1944 found the
Allies reeling from the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and also in France, and
also engaged in northern Italy, and back in the Philippines. Throughout the war,
sailors faced attacks at sea. In addition, many servicemen and women were
stationed far from home even if not on the front lines.
Nothing warmed the heart
more than gifts from home. The Army and Navy post offices did their best to
distribute presents quickly, but the sheer volume of mail and the great
distances created difficulties. Families were advised to mail Christmas packages
from September 15 to October 15, and the Navy restricted packages to under five
pounds. Still, many servicemen, especially sailors at sea, received
packages several months later. While many gifts were cherished and useful (such
as candy, cookies, and warm socks), some were perplexing, such as neckties and
The armed services went
out of their way to provide special holiday meals whenever possible. Those
serving on ships or on fixed bases, either at home or abroad, had elaborate
meals of turkey and ham with all the fixings. Even on the front lines, kitchens
tried to provide turkey dinners. However, in 1942 on Guadalcanal, the troops
were happy simply to receive an orange and a warm beer.
decorations were scarce, but improvisation and creativity reigned. On the
hospital wards overseas, nurses snipped tin from used plasma cans to make stars
to string from the tent ceilings or to decorate little trees. Ration tins and
foil wrappings were used for other makeshift decorations.
Many bases arranged Santa
visits, concerts, and parties for the men. In addition, Americans often put
together parties for local children. For example, the airmen of the
94th Bombardment Group stationed in Bury St. Edmunds threw a big
party for British orphans.
Most of all, the perilous
times reminded the serviceman and woman of the reason for Christmas, the birth
of Jesus Christ, who saves us from our sins and will one day usher in a new
heaven and a new earth without hate and death. Christmas services were held on
all fronts, and the carols about “peace on earth, goodwill to men” were sung
with special fervor.
Being separated from family and friends during the
holidays made war that much more difficult for those in the military, but
creativity and generosity made Christmas meaningful and memorable.
Labels: Christmas, World War II