Herts Ad reporter's wartime diary sheds light on 1940s Christmas
- Credit: Nicola Doherty
A fascinating insight into life at Christmas in St Albans at the height of WWII can be found in the wartime diaries of a former Herts Ad reporter.
Kathleen Gansert (nee Wilson) kept a diary of her experiences as a reporter working for the newspaper during the Second World War, packed with insights into life in St Albans, comments on national stories and newspaper cuttings and photos. Some stories are amusing while others show the hardship and horror of war.
As we approach one of our most difficult Christmases for years her daughter Nicola Doherty offered to share excerpts of another tumultuous festive season in St Albans, that of 1940.
She said: "My mother worked on the Herts Advertiser for several years including during the war, cycling everywhere even during the blackouts to seek out the latest local news. She was also well known as Aunty Kitty on a page she wrote for children which was eagerly read.
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"When [the paper's first woman reporter] Beryl Carrington died a few years ago someone wrote in to the Herts Advertiser to ask if Beryl was Aunty Kitty, and I responded to say she was my mother.
"I believe she left the Herts Advertiser when she got married and in later years wrote a few columns for the Revue and Evening Echo. My mum always looked back with fond memories of her time on the Herts Advertiser and had a lifelong friendship with Beryl ."
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Some entries follow:
Christmas 1940 seemed from a distance to be a pale little waif wandering among battered streets, turkey, Christmas puddings, pies, holly and mistletoe hanging from our shops above him just out of reach.
But now we have approached him more closely we perceive him to be the same ruddy kindly old man he has always been, already the children have taken him by the hand, already they are wondering what joyful treasures await them in his sack, while we older folk are looking on with an indulgent smile inwardly just as thrilled as they.
Whatever is rationed this Christmas, kindness and good heartedness and generosity will sponsor for. Perhaps there will not be enough turkey to go round and there will be many people whose purses will only permit them to replenish themselves on the humble rabbit, but after all the days of bitterness and sorrow we have been experiencing this year it is good to step into one festival or period of time set aside for prioritising the happiness of our friends extending a hand of goodwill to others.
What a humming, throbbing, swarming place the town is these days with half of London and all of St Albans packing our shops, walking our streets Christmas shopping, it is not exactly the easiest of tasks.
Goods that are reaching the shops in the most arty tarty fashion – no shop keepers seems to know what is in any of packages arriving at their premises - are snapped up almost before the brown paper has been taken from them, indeed if things go on at this rate England will be producing a race not of shop keepers but of smash and grab raiders.
However somehow or other we are all managing to procure these little gifts we like to send as souvenirs to our friends.
Judging from the stream of people that has flowed into the post office all week, the appeal to post early for Christmas has been taken to heart.
But alas woe is me many of mine still remain to be bought to be packed and all to be posted. But then we “Business Girls” are at a disadvantage with most of the shops closing in the Lunch Time and again at 5:30pm, what time do we get to compete against the masses?
There were no air raids on Christmas Eve.
How we should have looked forward to Christmas if we had known there was to be an “Unofficial Truce!” as it was our shopping and planning was haunted by the thought that we would get one of the strongest doses of their venom.
The wonderful raid free Christmas we all enjoyed - quietly though most of us spent it . How wonderful to find the peace of Christ proving stronger than the war faring. In spite of the threats that there would be few turkeys and chickens we all managed to secure one or the other for our dinners with plenty to spare in the shops. Indeed this year they tasted even better than usual, while the Christmas Pudding beamed even more gladly.