Remembering a wartime Christmas in Sunderland - what it was like in Wearside in the winter of 1941

The UK is going in to a second Christmas under the pandemic – but spare a thought for the people of Wearside in wartime.

Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 4:55 am

If you have ever wondered what life was like at Christmas in the Second World War, here is the answer with a glimpse at Sunderland in 1941.

It was a time of ration, making do and getting on with life and the Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette reflected the era.

Just look at the adverts in the Christmas Eve edition.

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How Sunderland celebrated Christmas in 1941.

One urged people to buy Creamola, the pudding which tasted just the same whether you added fresh milk or powdered.

Another was from the Ministry of Information and urged people to check their blackout curtains every night. It also told people to put out any fires in their gardens before they went to bed.

One wonderful advert proclaimed ‘When Smoking Is Prohibited, take Prince Royal Peppermint Snuff To Work With You!’

The news, meanwhile, was filled with the latest reports from the front line, including in Malaya and from Rommel’s actions in the desert war. It was mixed with a front page picture urging ‘all Wearsiders’ to have a Merry Christmas.

ATS girls stationed on Wearside decorate the canteen for their Christmas festivities in 1941.

Sunderland’s shops were busy with bargain hunters using up ‘their last available clothing coupon’ said an Echo report. Joplings had double fronted tunic shirts for men at 10/11.

People were turning to clothes as presents because toys had sold out ten days before Christmas Day.

Only one store had a Santa Claus that year and he had 30,000 visitors in three weeks.

Elsewhere in the news, 200 staff at Luxdon Launderies turned up for the works Christmas party in the canteen. A pianist and a conjuror provided the entertainment.

A front page message to Sunderland Echo readers in

And the big-hearted people of Sunderland showed they were a caring lot in two of the other stories in the Christmas Eve edition of the newspaper.

One said that £1,588 2s and 5d had been given to the Sunderland Echo fund to go towards comforts for serving soldiers.

Elsewhere in town, 320 elderly people in Millfield, Pallion and Deptford were presented with half crowns in a ceremony at the Rutland Street Citadel.

For entertainment in 1941, many people would have listened to the radio. Christmas Eve programmes on the Home Service included the BBC Salon Orchestra, Childrens Hour, Henry Hall’s Guest Night and Solemn Midnight Mass.

A seasonal singalong in an anti aircraft battery canteen on Wearside in 1941.

On Christmas Day, there were highlights including Hello, Children; The Kitchen Front; and Old Mother Riley’s Christmas Party.

Other would have gone to the pictures. There was a star-studded cast in the latest attraction at Blacks Theatre Royal where Ziegfeld Girl had a line-up of James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner. There were shows from 1pm to 9.45pm including Christmas Day.

The Havelock was showing Hi Gang! starring Bebe Daniels and over at the Ritz, there was International Squadron starring Ronald Reagan.

Football fans could still watch their favourite teams. Sunderland had a home game with Gateshead on Christmas Day, to be followed by a League Cup tie against Middlesbrough two days later.

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A poignant Christmas message from the Sunderland store Blacketts in 1941.

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A section of the dining room where ATS girls and men of a Wearside battery were waited upon by officers and NCOs on Christmas Day in 1941.