The Ghost of Christmas Past: Christmas in the Archives

17 Dec 2018|Rob Petre

  • Library, Arts & Archives

The main job that I do for the College is to catalogue its existing archives and to encourage creators or collectors of Hall records to pass them on. Listing material in detail serves two purposes: firstly, if we know what we have then we can work towards keeping it all safe; and secondly it allows us to answer questions about the Hall’s historical activities more efficiently.

The archives of Teddy Hall are a bit light when it comes to personal records – almost everything we have is ‘official’ in some way. Aularians (members of St Edmund Hall, from the Latin Aula Sancti Edmundi) have been generous in the past in donating photographs, menu cards and other memorabilia of their time at the Hall. But truly personal items are almost non-existent in our archives, so it came as a bit of a surprise to me when my recent ferreting turned up some Christmas cards.

An embroidered Christmas card from World War I
An embroidered Christmas card sent during World War I
A World War I Field Service card, with Merry Xmas written across the top
A Field Service card, sent during World War I

Firstly, when preparing for the exhibition for the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, I found a postcard collection in the Library Office. Among the cards there were several sent home by men at the Front; a couple of examples can be seen above.

These silk embroidered cards were made by local women in France and Belgium, and allowed men at the Front to send personal greetings home, rather than relying on the rather stark Field Service postcard supplied by the Army.

It would have taken a very mean-spirited Army censor indeed to take exception to the addition of “Merry Xmas”!

A second set of cards came to hand during my cataloguing of the papers of all the Principals. I have just reached the papers of A B Emden as Principal. Of course, the great ABE was an avid collector of personal items, and among his papers are Christmas cards sent by Aularians – and during the Second World War ‘Aularian’ included members of the Royal Netherlands Navy, who sent Principal Emden cards every year after he agreed to host them during their training days in Oxford.

An Aularian a little further afield found himself in Burma in Christmas 1945 after the surrender of the Japanese. His Christmas card has a slightly surprising front cover – the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma (now the Shwedagon Zedi Daw, Yangon). It is the second most important Buddhist site in Myanmar, and makes a slightly incongruous backdrop for a Yuletide commemoration – but to be fair, it is a card sent at Christmas rather than a Christmas card proper.

Royal Dutch Navy Christmas card from World War II
Greetings from Rangoon card sent during World War II

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Category: Library, Arts & Archives