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Christmas with a difference - A rollback from facemasks to bomb shelters.

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

This Christmas will be quite different. Many have suffered the loss of loved ones and livelihoods and we all face very hard and difficult choices. Yet it is in our nature and vocation to “carry on.” Encouraged by the wonderful community nativity that our children and young people have put together at St.Margaret’s Leigh, and also the work that the HMS Leigh “75” Project has done this year, I’ve been looking through some of our World War 2 archives. It came to end 75 years ago after 6 long years – yet throughout people got on with life and found encouragement in the familiar, the silly and the profound – not least in Christmas which combines all three. Anxiety, change, stoicism and humour are all blended in the writings and pictures. As always I love the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of this town as seen in some of the advertisements:

Attendance at midnight mass 1939 was 269 only 28 down on the previous year in spite of the “black fog and parishioners away on active and National service” – the magazines include their names and the Navy and Marines are very well represented I’m pleased to say. The Choir and others visited the first aid post to sing carols and a special mention was given to members of HM Forces on leave who attended. Fr Hilditch the first vicar was himself a chaplain in World War 1 and was to leave St.Margaret’s because of ill health during WW2. His successor in 1942, Fr Norris, had the help of an WW2 army chaplain for Christmas (presumably on leave) - Capt The Revd. Fr.Head. He gave the best sermon according to the Vicar! The vicar had been most concerned about numbers Christmas morning and told parishioners that lunches would be much better for the absence of most of them from the kitchen rather than interfering with “mother” …. Probably true but who would dare say that now?! Weddings are brought forward in haste and one groom (Sgt.Smith) also had his honeymoon interrupted after two days with a telegram to report to North Wales – pronto. In his notes on 1939 Fr.Hilditch recalled how romance boomed just before the outbreak of war – including for Mr.Helps – the appropriately named assistant organist. There is so much that is ordinary and homely; from whist drives powering the war damage insurance fund to the work of the mothers union “stopping us from being too parochial.” There is sharp contrast too. So much more of Christmas was actually celebrated during the Christmas season into January and February than happens now. The local churches had a joint children’s nativity that toured all the churches and played in St.Margaret’s Church Hall on January 24th at 3pm. Gifts played a big part too but beyond the home and “gift day” listed all the receipts by name and amount – the largest being £5 – “anonymous” and the smallest 2 shillings six and a half pence from the girl’s junior bible class who had, no doubt, been studying “the widows mite.”

Two messages to end; as fresh today as ever.

May Christmas make us determined to see to it that love not hate rules the world

Fr.Hilditch Christmas 1939.

How are we to celebrate Christmas? You can only be happy by bringing happiness to others.

Fr.Norris Christmas 1942.

Gunners ready for panto and for action!

A prayer for our time

Jesus was born in the poverty of the stable into a dark world. Dear God help us hear your voice and give us strength to continue working for your kingdom in this time of pandemic by serving each other. Dispel indifference to those who today suffer the loss of loved ones or livelihoods and bestow us with courage to be lights alongside those who suffer violence or injustice. Amen.

Have a blessed and safe Christmas.

The Rev’d Fr.David Wylie Royal Navy

Vicar of St.Margaret of Antioch


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