There was no let up in 486th activity just because it was Christmas: one mission was flown on Christmas Eve and another was scheduled for the next day but then cancelled. The men at Station 174 awoke to a white Christmas with a thick hoar frost coating the ground and the trees. This provided a great setting for the various parties which were going around the base but the big event for many of the men was the big Children’s Christmas Party that evening in the Aero Club. The organisers planned to entertain some 200 local children but in the event another 50 children who had not been invited also turned up. Extracts from contemporary American accounts:
“ The boys wanted to see that each child had a present as well as the candies and cookies that they had been saving for them. Off to the nearest town we went to pick out 200 surprizes. Books, paint sets, dolls, pens, blocks ribbons, crayons – what an array we managed to find! Thanks to the beautiful bundles sent out from HQ in Washington, all the children had a really festive-looking bundle.
The children were invited first into the music room to sing Christmas Carols – the most familiar song heard was ‘Silent Night’. And of course, ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ was in everybody’s mind. Later the kids were invited into the Game Room where Lt. Bloom had the projector set up for a movie. However, before the movie, the English kids got to singing spontaneously, ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy’, ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ and to my surprise and bewilderment, ‘Pistol Packin’ Momma!’
The tea table was beautifully decorated with candles and greens and we made a Magic Path out of chaff leading up to it. This path later disappeared into the pockets of the guests. How those little faces glowed when the saw the table and the tree. The Yanks had arranged real Christmas lights on the tree (the children had heard about lights, but never seen them). And while the kids were marvelling at the sights, they also began to make the food disappear. There were star cookies, chocolate cake, mint fondant, cocoa, etc. And most of it disappeared in the twinkling of an eye.
Then the band struck up a lively chorus of ‘Jingle Bells’ and in walked Father Christmas. The appearance of Father Christmas caused a miniature stampede! There were gifts for everybody. Helpful GIs gave out the gifts and it was one terrific, gigantic, and colossal job to keep the kiddos in line to talk with Father Christmas, receive their gifts and move away.
As long as they live, the children in this neighborhood will remember Christmas of 1944 with the Yanks. The Yanks, too, will carry in their memory the voices and laughter of little children being made happy and gay. And the Yanks will also remember that their homesickness was wiped away by their unselfishness and generosity.”
A few other memories of the party…
The little girl with her hands full of packages wailing, “How I blow my nose?”
The GI who was so certain that he had a way with children who could not stop his special little girl from crying.
The local ‘Bobby’ serving cake.
Two little boys who were better on the drums than any of our regular musicians.
The sound of the children singing as they rode off into the night.