Monday, August 10, 2009

"Christmas under Fire"

A traditional Christmas nativity scene
A depiction of ‘The First Christmas’ underground
“Christmas under Fire” compared 1940 with this ‘First Christmas’

In December 1940, when virtually Britain and the Commonwealth were alone in opposing the Axis powers then in control of most of western Europe, the Crown / GPO Film Unit released a short 10-minute film entitled 'Christmas under Fire'. The film was primarily aimed at an American audience - to win over popular opinion in the USA which at that time was a neutral country. “Christmas under Fire” uses film footage of choristers from King’s College, Cambridge singing Christmas carols, children and families collecting and decorating Christmas trees, a troupe of actors preparing for a pantomime and families sleeping in the London Underground stations.

In his commentary Quentin Reynolds compares the ‘Christmas underground’ of London in 1940 to the ‘First Christmas’. There is also a comparison between the ‘First Christmas’ (i.e. the birth of the ‘Prince of Peace’) and Christmas in Britain in 1940, or at least the Christmas of Britain in 1940 portrayed on the film. It showed families and children still celebrating the festival although this was a time of war and not one of peace.

For additional information click on ‘Comments below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Quentin Reynolds, an American war correspondent from "Collier's Weekly" appears in the introduction to “Christmas under Fire” and also did the commentary. At that time in 1940 he was based in London to cover the war. The director of 'Christmas under Fire' was Harry Watt, one of a small number of British wartime film directors who worked for the GPO / Crown Film Unit. A few weeks earlier, another GPO / Crown Unit film (entitled “London can take it” / “Britain can take it” directed by Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings) had also used Quentin Reynolds for the introduction and film commentary. A copy of “Britain can take it” had been taken to Washington and given personally by Quentin Reynolds to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

These two films – “London (or Britain) can take it” and “Christmas under Fire” – were used to influence American public opinion in favour of the Allied cause. It was not just London that was experiencing the German bombers around Christmas time in 1940, but the film of families taking refuge in the London Underground Tube Stations evidently tied in reasonably well to the comparison between families in London in 1940 and that of the ‘Holy Family’ (i.e. Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus) at the centre of the ‘First Christmas’ sheltering in an underground stable in Bethlehem.

By Christmas 1940 many families were in a state of enforced separation. For example, some fathers were away in the Forces or in the Merchant Navy. Additionally, many children and sometimes mothers with young children from larger towns and cities had been evacuated to areas deemed less likely at risk from bombing.

In recent years it has been possible to purchase copies of some of the GPO / Crown Film Unit wartime documentaries. I have bought some of these films for my own collection, including “Britain can take it”, “Christmas under Fire” and “The True Story of Lilli Marlene”. To a large extent the Crown Film Unit productions were made to portray a certain view of wartime life but they are useful tools for researchers of WW2. Even the toys that children wanted (according to the film) convey a change in attitude among the people. The previous year’s toys, such as forts that one might have found on the Maginot Line, were consigned to the top shelf in the stores. The must have toys for boys at Christmas 1940 were model aircraft and these could be used to tell the difference of the different types of real aircraft – friend and foe – found in the skies above. Ultimately, war or no war, the film conveys the message that children would not be cheated of Christmas.

[Article posted after a request from BBC researchers for the ONE Show in 2009 via the 2WW Blog site for information about Christmas on the Home Front].

Tuesday, 11 August, 2009  

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