Page 1, 2nd January 1942

2nd January 1942
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Page 1, 2nd January 1942 — Christmas with Our Allies French: Poles: Belgians: Czechs
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Christmas with Our Allies French: Poles: Belgians: Czechs

From C.11. Reporters

MIDNIGHT MASS with the French dreamed I Was in France on Christmas Night—and I was on this side of dreamland! When General de Gaulle strode into our midst, drifting from group to group with an air of almost debonair gaiety and smiling and chatting incessantly, 1 felt that here was a great Christian soldier and gentleman caught by the Spirit of Christmas.

His hearty handshake and brief " Joyeux Noel " convinced me half a minute later. I spoke also to General Petit, a man of charm, who had several nice things to say about this paper.

French A.T.S. Headquarters, South Kensington, was vibrant at 11.30 p.m. with the happy music of I rench conversation and laughter. Gesticulating, khaki-clad " volontaires " and friends clustered in bright hunches about the room, as the guests (wholly unbidden hut tumultuously welcome) began to arrive. Prominent among them was Lady Townshcad, who arrived with the generals.

Midnight Mass began promptly. I was strangely placed with the A.T.S. and choir in a room behind and slightly overlooking the improvised altar. The low tones of the celebrant were soon merged in the joyous melody of the solemn " Minuit Chretienne." The voices and the atmosphere were carried, too, far beyond these islands to the cities, towns and far-flung homesteads of Canada, where French ears picked up the broadcast eagerly and French hearts beat in unison with ours.

FROM EVERY PART OF FRANCE

There seemed to be something sharp and almost bitter shining through all this gladness; I think I saw it gleaming in the eyes of those young girls at prayer. They hailed from every nook and cranny of France, occupied and unoccupied; hardy Normans and Bretons, Parisians, and natives of the warm provinces of the South. Their speech betrayed them! The memories of past Christmases, when the world still enjoyed a troubled peace and the dark shadow of suffering and serfdom had not yet covered the land, returned to them now in full spate.

The strains of the traditional " TI cst ne le divin enfant " were still dinning in my brain as we turned to a delightful " vine " of pastry, croissons and hot chocolate in the lounge (with sterner beverages for more fiery thirsts). The General distributed presents to the girls from the great Christmas tree, after his own snack.

I chatted with Madame Terria, commandant of the volontaires. She herself was amazed at the spontaneous success of the function. " We made no plans; we did not even expect the General! What you saw to-night was the spirit of true France." It would be hard to imagine anywhere outside France a function of such sparkling native spontaneity.

BREAKING THE CHRISTMAS WAFER with the Poles

Bishop Gawlina said Mass at the Polish Church on Christmas Eve and even to get there was for some of us a pilgrimage. Appropriately enough " The Angel " was our guide, but not the Nativity Angel but the tube station of that name. Here, in this small church Fr. Staniszewski keeps a little corner of Poland intact for his exiles.

The place was crowded with soldiers and sailors, airmen and officers. The Polish women and girls. while the men sang in their tine, strong voices the carols they had sung in childhood, wept a few unobtrusive tears for the people at home. lo a side chapel stood the crib to which the congregation crowded after the Mass, to pray and to light a candle.

Downstairs in the crypt supper was being prepared in the lame surroundings in which it is eaten every Christmas Eve in Poland. With only a few changes. The candles were lit ; the Christmas tree was there; the tables set. At the far end of the room a star shone over the gleaming map of Poland. The traditional straw under the tables—a reminder of the Stable at Bethlehem—and the children who watch through the window for the first star which is the signal for the supper to begin—were absent.

GREAT POLISH FAMILY

The company assembled, Bishop Gawlina seated between the Polish Cabinet Minister Popicl and Mrs. Popiel. The electric lights were dimmed and Fr. Staniszewski talked to his exiles about the great Polish family scattered all over the world and united with them in prayer and the will to fight until Poland can claim her sons again.

Bishop Gawlina thanked Fr. Staniszewski for his welcome to the sons and daughters of Poland who are in London.

Then came the traditional breaking and sharing of the wafer — an indispensable part of the Polish Christmas greeting, and afterwards the supper of fish—also traditional—and poppyseed cake—and the singing of the fine old carols of Poland by the mellow candle light and beneath the gleaming shape of Poland lit by its solitary star.

ANGLO-POLISH BALLET

Catholicity in Poland permeates all phases of life and so it was not surprising to find the Anglo-Polish ballet had invited their friends on to the stage of St. James' theatre to take part in the shating of the wafer at their pre-Christmas party. The Crib and the ciaristmas tree stood side by side on the stage—and Fr. Staniseewski explained to the polyglot assembly something of the wafer ceremony.

' The white humble wafer," he said, " in which many grains join together, is a symbol of love, fraternity and harmony. It is the external sign of that which all should aim at if they wish to be real Christians. The wafer is sent to relatives and friends at Christmas and wherever Poles are living and under whatever conditions they find themselves, they try on Christmas Day to gather together and pass it in friendship and love.

" The Angio-Polish ballet likewise forms in its own way a family and I wish them all the richest Divine blessings.'' These two ceremonies were representative in their way of gatherings that were taking place all over England, Scotland and Wales.

CHILDREN CELEBRATE with the Belgians

Belgium began its celebrations in excellent time for Christmas; and they can he summed LIP adequately as " the children's festival."

On December 23, in the concert hall of the Chelsea Polytechnic, a concert was held for the apprentices of the Marlborough Institute and other Belgian training centres in London. It was attended by M. Spaak, Minister of Labour, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Chelsea.

Belgian school-children, with their English friends, were entertained by the Belgian Minister of Education on the same day to a jolly Christmas party. A bumper meal was followed by singing and native dancing. and joy reached high-water mark when Father Christmas stripped the Christmas tree of its many bundles of surprise and pleasure.

Then at the Cambridge Theatre, the British Council got together with young artistes from Belgium, France, Greece, Yugo-Slavia, Holland and Norway, and the result was an Allied Christmas concert of a hight standard of performance. Items were supplemented by the famous Fleet Street classical and the Polish Army choirs. Belgian contributions were traditional carols, Walloon and Flemish carols admirably executed by singers its the costume of the Beghards of the early middle ages.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA.

The Czechoslovak community in London attended a High Mass on Christmas Day at the Church of St. Peter and St. Edward, Palace Street, London. Mgr. Schramck broadcast a message to Czechs all over the world.




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