December 1940 – a schoolgirl’s wartime Christmas in Scotland
If you are struggling to choose or afford Christmas presents this year, spare a thought for the fashion conscious 1940s wartime young woman like Peggy Skinner!
Peggy Skinner is a 15 to 16 year old schoolgirl in her final years of school, transplanted in wartime to Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland from her South London home.
Like many school girls she is worrying about exam results and making it into her school leaving year in 1941. She makes it to wartime Glasgow University on a Carnegie Grant to study Astronomy, Maths, Radio and Science, but all this seems far away in Christmas 1940. [I’ve added additional notes in brackets].
Much of her social life revolves around school friends and a church youth group, attending a Bible Class en route to becoming a Sunday School teacher of a weekend throughout her wartime student years.
Peggy is obviously a bright girl, daughter of an engineer and draughtsman. School is thankfully going well for her despite relocation and wartime disruption. Unusually at the time for a female student, she is doing well studying Science and Maths.
Glasgow schools in wartime
Many Glasgow schools were closed early on in the war or requisitioned for military and civil defence use. Peggy’s school seems to have a range of teachers on loan from other schools.
Amongst the range of teacher names and nicknames somebody in Paisley or Glasgow might recognise or identify Peggy’s school:
Jetta Yuill her French teacher from Renfrew High School, Bone her Latin teacher, ‘Fanny’, Miss Buchanan, Miss Reid and Miss Blair her Gym teachers, ‘Doc’ and Billy Robb her Science teachers, Stoney, Denham or Denman her Physics and Science teacher, Tommy Henderson, Alice Young, Miss McKim, Miss Walker, Hutchison or Hutchie, Stevenson her History teacher, Mr. Reid her music teacher and McCrossan who produces the school play.
Does anyone recognise any of these names from wartime school days?
Peggy Skinner’s summer in Scotland safe from the London Blitz and Battle Of Britain in July to September 1940 were covered in a previous blogpost: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/battle-of-britain-day-remembered-15-september-1940/
More about Peggy’s life (1924-2011) and other wartime birthdays and Christmas entries can be found here on what would have been her 90th birthday tribute in December 2014: https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/happy-90th-birthday-peggy-jane-skinner/
Peggy Skinner’s wartime diary, December 1940
Sunday 1st As [the local vicar] Mr Laming is away, the Marines’ chaplain took the Eucharist. Mr [Bovey?] took Bible Class and some one from Trinity Paisley took evensong. His profile was like Tyrone Power’s but he spoke so slowly.
[Tyrone Power, the famous U.S. film actor of the time, was a bit of a Peggy Skinner favourite!]
Monday 2nd Physics marks back, they were really out of 120 but they were counted out of 100 since we didn’t get all the time we were supposed to. I’ve got 50% for my Latin.
Tuesday 3rd I have found out that I am the highest in lower History in our class, so I’m quite bucked. I got 67% for my Chemistry which is far better than I’d expected.
Wednesday 4th Dance practice with boys at Gym. Latin sentences in place of or in addition to the exam ones, of course I couldn’t do them. AYPA – went to Youth welfare meeting, pretty boring.
[Anglican Young People’s Association, a church youth and social group of the time]
Thursday 5th Dance practice with boys. Latin marks back, the sentences we had yesterday were counted in place of the ones in the exam. They brought my marks up a bit. It is 55% which I think is good.
Friday 6th Half day. Went to Whist drive round church hall. I just filled in, had to help Mum get the hall ready first.
Saturday 7th Went to Paisley with Bunty to see My Two Husbands, it was very amusing. Altogether, it was quite a good show. Paisley was crowded, it was War Weapons Week.
Sunday 8th Communion and Bible Class. It is very cold. I think it is freezing tonight. Trying to think of Xmas presents.
Monday 9th Higher History marks back. I am second equal and first equal when averaged British and European history is taken.
Tuesday 10th Xmas is getting very near and I haven’t brought any presents. I don’t know what to get. Our parcel from Grandma arrived last Friday.
[Grandma is back home with the family in London]
Wednesday 11th Literature back, I got 30 ½ out of 45. I’m third equal in our section. Didn’t do much at AYPA tonight.
Thursday 12th It is Paisley War Weapons Week this week, our savings collection last week towards it was £175, this week it is £333, making a total of over £500 which is five times as much as we aimed at.
Friday 13th English marks back. We got away at 1.30, because of yesterday’s collection. I went to Paisley in the afternoon, Xmas shopping, I wasn’t very successful, everything’s so expensive.
Saturday 14th Very miserable day. Went to Paisley with Mum in afternoon, got nothing we went for. Stockings are 2 to 3 times the price they used to be.
Editor’s note: This shortage and price increase was pre-clothes rationing, which would arrive in six months time on Sunday June 1st 1941, partly to manage and organise scarcity, profiteering and excessive prices.
The shortage of shoes and everyday clothes became a major irritation for Peggy throughout her diary including into the austerity and rationing period long after the war, especially being tall.
Thankfully her family were competent makers of clothes with whatever remnants became available.
Sunday 15th Poured with rain again, I had to borrow an umbrella to come home from church this morning. I went to Bible Class and evensong.
Monday 16th We had our report cards back. The Rector [the School Headmaster] sent for some people but luckily not me. Packed Xmas presents this evening.
[These presents are to be posted to her remaining family down south in London.]
Tuesday 17th I hate Maths now (although the periods are often quite good, like the ones today) because we always seem to be so keyed up.
Wednesday 18th Dancing in boy’s shed this morning because the Gym was being decorated. Only 7 at AYPA tonight, so as usual did nothing.
Thursday 19th Half-day for 4th, 5th, 6th year dance – I did not go. I’ll hear all about it tomorrow I expect. It was just an afternoon affair.
Friday 20th [Peggy’s 16th birthday] Black velvet for frock, jumper, ring and money to buy books were my presents. Half-day for 3rd years dance. We have a big Hamlet crossword puzzle to do. Short air –raid warning this evening.
Saturday 21st Another short warning, which I did not hear last night. Bessie and Jean came to tea, just talked. I at any rate quite enjoyed myself.
Sunday 22nd Woke so late that I had a job to get to church in time but service was only beginning as I went in. I went to Bible Class. I tried to finish the [Hamlet school] crossword but couldn’t.
Monday 23rd Two boys had managed to get the crossword done. We only had two periods this afternoon then got away early. I’ve still some Xmas shopping to do.
Tuesday 24th Half day, broke up, we did X-word puzzles in Maths, nothing in History and Bible and worked in English and Chem. I went to midnight Eucharist, took communion. Church was crowded.
Wednesday 25th Christmas Day Went to [neighbours] Read’s for tea and evening, two other people there, we had a very good time but I’m so sleepy now Xmas is over. This year it’s come unexpectedly and passed quickly.
Christmas in Wartime
Not the first Christmas of the war, but this was the first Christmas in wartime where rationing was beginning to have an effect on food and gifts. Later entries by Peggy Skinner for 1943 and 1946-9 record the ongoing difficulties of finding suitable presents and making of things to sell for charity fundraising.
Thursday 26th Didn’t wake till midday. Went round to Bunty’s but I got no reply So I just came home and read. I haven’t started my homework yet.
Friday 27th Saw Bunty this morning. We have a [barrage] balloon opposite us now, the site has been prepared for months but the balloon wasn’t brought till today.
This barrage balloon site near her house is on the National Historic Monuments Record for Scotland in the Glendee Road area of Paisley, protecting factory areas at Hillingdon.
Saturday 28th Got letters from Bessie and Jean this morning, they were very amusing, especially if they were compared. Went to see Pinocchio the full length cartoon alone this afternoon.
Sunday 29th Good crowd at Communion, had service in church at Bible Class. Good number of carols at evensong, choir alone sang them all, quite a few I didn’t know.
Monday 30th Went round to Bunty’s this afternoon, we both tried to do some history. She and I went down to library this evening . Miserable cold wet day.
Tuesday 31st Reads came over this evening, had a little party, quite a good time. I’m full and tired. Mr Read saw the ‘New Year’ in, so this should actually be here.
Editor’s note: This list entry about ‘first footing’ by neighbours gives you a clue when her diary was sometimes written, often at the end of day before sleep.
Wednesday 1st I did not get up till dinner-time today, all the family was late up. Did some English this afternoon. Snow.
Thursday 2nd While I was down the town this afternoon the siren went but I just finished my shopping and then wandered home. Nothing happened, the [barrage] balloon opposite didn’t even go up.
We have no diaries from Peggy for 1941 and 1942. These two January entries give us a few clues as to what was to happen in coming months.
Like her entries for January 1940, the winter of 1941 is recorded by other diarists in our collection and other published diaries as a harsh one of frozen pipes and snow.
The lack of reaction to the air raid siren and ‘nothing happened, the balloon opposite didn’t even go up’ would change on 13 and 14th March 1941 when Clydebank and the Glasgow area were heavily bombed. Sadly we don’t have Peggy’s diaries for this eventful year.
Posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo.