A Christmas Mystery

100_7318Knitted, carved, sculpted, or cast…. who and what are depicted in your Nativity Scene?   Despite their being no Biblical reference to their presence, our miniature Holy Families kneel in stables that are populated by cattle and donkeys.  Snow amasses on the thatched roof.  We do know it’s likely that only a camel was exhaling its malodorous breath over the celebrated events, and that the weather outside was actually frightfully hot, but the old images persist.


A Mystery Play about the Nativity – being perfomed in Lichfield in December 2009. It is authentic that the costumes are reminiscent of British working clothes of yesteryear.

A Staffordshire farmer of my acquaintance returned in sceptical mood from one of his very numerous foreign holidays. He was dubious as to whether the church of the Holy Nativity in Manger Square, Bethlehem, truly marked the site of the First Noel, since no trace of barn, straw, or livestock was anywhere in evidence.

My dad spent Christmas 1945 in the Holy Land. When the rains fell in sudden torrents there that winter, it was onto ground so hot that the tents in which the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards were billeted near Lake Tiberius were filled with steam, and young Guardsman Horton was obliged to sign off abruptly at the end of his letter home to his sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Alf Cooper at the Owletts Farm in Lynn, a world away in cold and foggy rural Staffordshire.

Guardsman E.N.Horton.  at Lake Tiberius (The Sea of Galilee) 1945

Guardsman E.N.Horton. at Lake Tiberius (The Sea of Galilee) 1945

As Zionist terrorist activity accelerated in Palestine, the Arab League was vainly fighting for its right to be heard in the debate surrounding the creation of a Jewish State.  British politicians lobbied against the US inclination to allow massive immigration of displaced European Jewry to what they considered to be their homeland. My dad was still accustoming himself to the otherness of the all the various peoples he was encountering in this foreign country.  He related to Alf and Mary that the Bedouin men, he had been told, were stealthy enough to steal rifles and a mosquito nets, and even the bedding from beneath a sleeping soldier without disturbing him – and would attempt the raids with their scantily clad bodies slippery with grease, so that they could evade the grasp of their victims even in the event that they woke them up.

To think that two years previously, the trip he had taken to the recruiting office in Bethesda Street, Hanley had been the furthest he had ever travelled on his own.  Here is an audio clip in which he tells me how chance had it that he evolved from (young) Shenstone Home Guardsman to Welsh Guardsman:

He’d had a wealth of character building experiences in the following months.  Many were the subjects of familiar anecdotes that were related in various degrees of detail from time to time down the years, depending upon their audience.  One of the most arresting is the story he told of a magical night near the desert camp that Christmas.  I wonder whether “0003 Porter”s family were ever regaled with the tale of the evening he and my dad spent at the party of their dreams, with beautiful girls, delicious food, and the most intoxicating of festive atmospheres.  Eager for more of the same, they retraced their steps for hours the following evening to no avail: the dazzlingly lit venue was nowhere at all to be found. Nowhere. At. All.

I have memories of the evening recounted in glorious detail by my dad as a younger man.  All I can offer you is this recording of a chat between us – middle aged daughter and elderly man – him giving a cursory account of the night because he knew I’d heard it all before.  Let this be a lesson to all would-be historians.  Soon, so soon, it becomes “too late.” Empty chairs at my Christmas feast.






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7 Responses to A Christmas Mystery

  1. Rosalind Cooper says:

    I knew this was what you were up to whilst I had the Pud. ! Unfortunately can’t figure out how to listen, drat!. It says I will find it in downloads but I have yet to find out where they might be…… Have a lovely Christmas, how unusual for you to have a bit of togetherness, hope it makes it a happy pudding, but YOU have a good time too. NADOLIG LLAWEN much love Ros staffordshirebred <comment-reply@wordpress.com> wrote:

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    staffordshirebred posted: “Knitted, carved, sculpted, or cast…. who and what are depicted in your Nativity Scene?   Despite their being no Biblical reference to their presence, our miniature Holy Families kneel in stables that are populated by cattle and donkeys.  Snow amasses on”

  2. You should be able to click on the little triangle for Uncle Ted to speak to you…..

  3. Clive says:

    That was lovely, thank you for sharing your walk down memory lane with me.

  4. Chris Myers says:

    Thank you for that wonderful memoir. I found it because of my interest in the Staffordshire Home Guard and especially the Aldridge Battalion of which Shenstone would have been a part.
    Beyond the audio clip, did your father leave any other memories of his Home Guard service – paperwork, images, anecdotes etc.?
    I should like to commemorate his service by mentioning him in my Home Guard website if that would be welcomed by his family.
    The website is staffshomeguard. Easily googleable and I won’t post a direct link here because it will probably be automatically rejected! I can be contacted via the Feedback page in the site.
    Best wishes, Chris Myers – Webmaster….staffshomeguard

    • Hi Chris – I have video of the conversation – which I will review to see whether there is any more. Thank you so much for reading – glad it was of interest

      • Chris Myers says:

        Thanks again. Do please let me know if anything further surfaces.

        The sort of thing which might have survived are the King George VI certificate which was issued to almost all Home Guards, thanking them for their service. This is useful in that it gives precise details about the length of service. Other documentation are things like Proficiency Certificates. All give clues as to who, when and where.

        My elder brother served from 1940 to 1942 in a neighbouring unit, based at Little Aston Hall stables. There is a memoir of his on the website. He describes a weekend exercise where his section moved cross-country from Stonnal and ended up, hot, dusty and thirsty, at The Bull at Shenstone. There he and his comrades were welcomed by the shrill voice of the rather fierce landlady: “All Other Ranks into the public bar, please!” In those days I suppose they did as they were told. But my brother never forgot it!


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