Christmas 1943: From No. 1 “Y” Depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia

News Article / December 19, 2018

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From Joanna Calder

Seventy-five years ago, in 1943, Christmas was very different for most Canadians and their families. The Second World War had been ongoing for more than four years, with the accompanying separations and losses of loved ones.

No. 1 “Y” Depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was an embarkation depot for Air Force personnel heading overseas to Europe and the crucible of war. The depot newsletter, “Y’s Cracks”, was doing its best to keep morale high with station news, jokes and gossip (some of which would be quite out of place in today’s Canadian Armed Forces!). The Christmas 1943 edition was no different but some of its pages also reflected the sombre reality of 1943.

Three chaplains, Flight Lieutenant K.G. Sullivan, Squadron Leader M.J. McNeil and Flight Lieutenant D.T.A. Haviland, wrote columns for the newsletter, encouraging depot personnel to keep up their spirits, and emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas in the face of global tragedy. However, the harsh reality was never far below the surface though. As Squadron Leader McNeil wrote:

After so many years, we still celebrate his birthday. Today we are at war. However, in our hearts, may this Christmas be like the first one, a day of peace.

These days are difficult and sorrowful. Our dear ones at home miss us and are feeling the weight of the times. We are sad. We want home, wife, mother and sweetheart, all the things we are fighting for and that, for the present, are kept from us . . . May 1944 be one of true rejoicing and bring you all the things you hold dear.

The newsletter editorial reflected on past Christmasses and encouraged everyone at the depot to keep up their spirits and to look forward to peace and Christmasses to come. Here is that editorial:

It’s Christmas 1943. Time for celebrations, and the renewal of old acquaintances gathered into the cementing of new ones.

Or is it?

In other years, people all over the world would be wearing broad smiles. They’d be clapping their friends on the back, shaking hands, making their familiar greetings. Kids would be waking up Christmas morning, looking for the stockings at the foot of the bed or over the mantelpiece, loaded with candy, nuts and toys. There would be breakfast Christmas morning, with Mother bustling about trying to get the first meal of the day over and done with. Dad, in the new smoking jacket Mother gave him, would be enjoying one of the Christmas cigars the boys at the office had provided. Sis would be leaving the table every five minutes to telephone greetings, ever old but ever new, to her particular crowd. And the kid brother would find the breakfast table a completely boring occasion, a thing that had to be done before the family could adjourn to the Christmas tree in the parlour.

That was the story in other years.

What of Christmasses to come? Will they be only unhappy reminders of the joys that used to be? Let’s hope not.

Everything seems to point to the realization of the hope that, maybe not next Christmas but probably the Christmas after, families will once again be gathered together at the Christmas breakfast table. Maybe we’re being optimistic—or if the fates will it, maybe a bit pessimistic. But certainly, in the years to come, the Spirit of Christmas will once again throw its mantle over the world. There’ll be laughter, greetings, turkey and plum pudding. There’ll be the spirit of fun and expectancy that grows as the 25th of December approaches, and the celebrations that mark the actual arrival of Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, this Christmas, let’s just carry on.

Here at “Y” Depot, as in stations and camps all over the Allied world, there’ll be people like us who won’t be home for Christmas this year. But let’s make the most of the situation. Let’s have what fun is here. And let’s all pray fervently that, back home, the folks are carrying on their Christmas festivities just as we shall carry on ours. That, after all, is one reason why we’re in uniform, so that the things we love and that are so much a part of our lives, will survive.

We can enjoy this Christmas in uniform, if we remember that when this war is all over, there’ll be Christmas at home, waiting for us. –A.E.N.

The editorial staff of “Y’s Cracks when the Christmas 1943 edition was published comprised Flight Lieutenant Carl Keyfetz, Corporal Bob Musk, Leading Aircraftman Bert Nightingale and Flight Sergeant Doris Breen. It was published monthly “through kind permission of the commanding officer, Wing Commander F. Belway, DFC”.


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