Gladys Venner decked the Town Hall of Hammersmith one wartime Christmas for a special children’s party. With their mothers in tow, the young guests streamed into the party, eager for tea and a treat from Father Christmas. With their real fathers in camps, children and mums thanked Gladys and co. for restoring their yuletide spirits.
Any special memories?
” We gave a really lovely party for the POWs’ children at Christmas time. But before the party, a lot of work had to be done:
Finding out from [the mothers] if they wanted the children to come. Finding out from the Red Cross Tracing Service that the men were in prison camps. It took some time for the Red Cross [to confirm] that.”
What did you do?
“I was involved in collecting food and money and presents from people. We had to beg, particularly food, as food was on ration. But everyone was very generous. And a lot of the ladies made toys for children.
The mothers came along with the children, about 40 children. All [from] Hammersmith and Fulham. Most of the children were under five years old.
The children had tea. We didn’t have a Christmas cake. They had jelly and ice cream. And we made a fruit salad. People had made little fancy cakes. Some of them even had icing on them
Then Father Christmas arrived. Quite a lot of them hadn’t seen him before. Because he wasn’t in the shops during the war. Not like he is now.
And all the children had a present. They hadn’t seen many toys and there was one or two little scraps, as they wanted someone else’s toys.
Everybody really enjoyed it. It was a great success.
There was quite a few of them that, as they were going away, were saying how much they’d enjoyed it and ‘I’ll write and tell John all about it.’ And saying to the children, ‘We’ll write and tell daddy about it.’
The number of British POWs in the hands of German forces was not officially made known until November 1940, when it stood at 44,000. In response to this announcement, the Joint War Organisation opened new packing centres to increase the numbers of parcels being sent.
In 1941 the Minister of Health asked the Joint War Organisation to convert some of its convalescent homes into nurseries for the under-fives. The 22 nurseries looked after children injured during the Blitz and the children of mothers who were doing war-work. Find out more in A Tale about Toddlers.
It was not easy writing to someone who was a POW. Although you could write as many times as you liked, there were rules that you had to follow that were very strict. Added to this difficulty was the fact that POWs (in Germany) could only write two letters and four postcards in a month. Find out more about writing to a POW.