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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Uncle Harry's Christmas Meal - France 1939: Sepia Saturday

In 2011 I posted the story of my uncle's wartime Christmas meal.  It is a powerful and poignant tale.  that I feel is worth repeating for this week's Sepia Saturday prompt.  

Harry Rawcliffe Danson ((1912-2001) was my uncle on my mother's side of the family from Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. His middle name came from his grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe. 

This signed menu of December 25th 1939,   written in French and typed on very  flimsy paper,  was found among his papers following his death. 

In 1939, Harry was in France with the British Expeditionary Force, 9/17th Field Battery.  In the Sergeant's Mess,  breakfast was cold ham with piccalilli, eggs, coffee and roll and butter;  for dinner  - turkey with chestnuts, pork with apple sauce, potatoes, and cauliflower followed by Christmas pudding, apples, oranges, and nuts, with cognac, rum and beer.  That strikes me now as quite a feast, given the conditions they must have been living in - and a tribute to the catering corps.

Five months later in May 1940.  Harry was one of the many men trapped by the German army on the beaches of northern France.
338,226 soldiers  were evacuated  by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats.  Many of the troops  had to wade out into the sea,  waiting for hours in shoulder-deep water. Some were ferried from the beaches to the larger ships by what came to be known as "the little ships of Dunkirk" - a flotilla   of hundreds of merchant shipping,   small boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, and lifeboats.  called into service for the emergency.

The British Expeditionary Force had to abandon their tanks, vehicles, and other equipment, and lost 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign.    

How many of those men who signed Harry's Christmas Day menu 
might well have perished in that operation
Allied evacuation of Dunkirk
Courtesy of Wikipedia 
 My mother related how  Harry arrived back home from Dunkirk  still in the uniform in which he entered the sea to be rescued.   Harry  never talked about his wartime experiences, but seeing commemoration services or documentaries on TV could bring tears to his eyes, so the memories remained very strong - and that flimsy bit of signed paper, kept for over 60 years, was a potent symbol of his Christmas Day, 1939.



Harry later served in Africa and Italy.

Harry had a short lived marriage in the 1940's, but never remarried.   He lived  to the age of 89.  remaining active to the end of his life - he sailed a small dinghy off the coast of nearby Fleetwood, was  a keen gardener, do-it-yourselfer, and ballroom dancer (he was never short of partners) - and he retained his good looks !

Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers 
to share their family history through photographs.

 Click HERE to read memories of Christmas meals from other bloggers.

 Copyright © 2016 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. Harry was, indeed, a fine-looking gentleman! And I can imagine, given his memories of the war, that the flimsy menu signed by his buddies must have meant the world to him.

  2. A nice Christmas tribute to your Uncle Harry.

  3. He certainly did retain those good looks! I would have happily been his dancing partner...

  4. Yes, he was very handsome. I agree as a food person that those catering people worked magic. And how important it was to have something special for those poor men. I'm glad your uncle survived and lived a long life. I hope he was happy. He deserved it. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  5. I have not looked at SS for a long time, but I did so the other day and spotted what at first glance was my father's 1939 New Years Menu, so similar to your uncle's. I have never blogged my menu, but a couple of years ago, it being 75 years on, I did investigate it. I tracked down the town (Nozay) and the restaurant still existed. I wrote by post, in French, but never had a reply. I wrote as follows:

    "I love history and I love to understand what happened to my ancestors, in 1914-18 and in 1939-45. My ancestors were very good at keeping important documents and ephemera.

    I want to share with you this menu, not important, but it tells a story.

    In 1939 the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters were camped near to Nozay. I would like someone to tell me where they were camped, but it is certain it was not too far from your restaurant.

    My father Geoffrey Aspdin was one of the officers.

    The Battalion officers were not going to allow the war to spoil the celebrations of new Year, so they organised a dinner with Mme Gergaud.

    The food sounds good, but there is a sense of humour in the menu. Some "Franglais" and some reference to the guests on the menu.
    Pottage aux fleurs de Lillys (Colonel Lilley was the commanding officer)
    Merlu Nickois aux beure blanc (Major Nicklin)
    Lapin Padre aux champignons (The Padre is an army priest)
    and more !!

    I am sure they enjoyed the meal, and the wine also.

    After the 5th Battalion were evacuated from France (Via Le Havre) in June 1940, they spent some time in England, before they were sent to the Far East in late 1941. They arrived in Singapore just 5 days before Singapore fell to the Japanese on February 15 1942. They were all captured, and from 1942 to September 1945 they were prisoners of war and slave labour on the Burma Siam railway. Over 400 men of the battalion died of disease and starvation and other causes.

    Gladly my father survived and I was born in 1950, and he lived until 1992.

    I sent some photos, the commanding Officer Col Lilley and my father, and one of the real bridge on the River Kwai, a photo that may surprise those that have the wrong image in their mind. The document is at


  6. Though Christmas memories come in different forms, peace and goodwill remain what we remember best.

  7. Thank you all, for your sympathic comments, and especially to you, Nigel, for sharing your father's experience of a similar wartime meal.

  8. Seasons greetings Sue. I enjoyed your memoir of your uncle. Best wishes Anne


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