This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
On a cold, windy night in December 1943, Pfc. Irvin Schwartz crawled his way through a blackout from his barracks to a service canteen somewhere in England. He sat down to pen a letter to his former boss at the West Schuylkill Press-Herald in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania.
In the letter, the Schuylkill County native betrays a tinge of homesickness and mourning for the drab holiday season he was experiencing in Britain. He mused on the meaning of Pearl Harbor and remembered that shocking day two years earlier when Japanese forces struck American naval and air stations in Hawaii and launched the United States into World War II. “I very easily remember and will never forget that Sunday, afternoon, December 7, 1941,” Schwartz wrote. “I was seated in a comfortable chair in the front room as a news broadcaster interrupted an orchestra and gave the report that Japan had struck Pearl Harbor ‘several minutes ago.’”
He then expressed to Horace Reber that the holidays were not going to bright nor merry in the US Army camps located across the British Isles. “Christmas Day 1943 will be at a low depth compared with any or all of my nineteen previous Christmas days. There will be no Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Christmas carols, programs, etc.,” he wrote. “Mr. Reber, Thanksgiving Day wasn’t a holiday here in Great Britain. December 7th will be observed in the hardest working day of the year; Christmas Day will be no holiday, and New Year’s Day will be observed likewise.”
He did express a Christmas wish that the previous weeks’ Press-Herald editions would find him – he had received none since leaving the United States more than a month earlier. In comparison to his previous letters, this letter touches a more gloomy note as the 19-year-old American soldier from Pennsylvania’s Coal Region fully faced the prospect of his first holiday season away from home.
From the January 7, 1944 edition of the West Schuylkill Press-Herald:
In the British Isles
Saturday night, December 4, 1943
Good evening, Mr. Reber:
Finally, I am getting acquainted with England’s customs and manners, and I now say that Shakespeare’s saying – “Hath not old customs made this life more sweet” – is one of his most colorful ones. You would say likewise, should you pay a visit to this old country – the home of this great poet, born at Stratford-on-Avon.
After serving as a room orderly today, I had a real good supper, took a cold shower, and managed to find my way in coal-black darkness to a Service Canteen where I am writing this letter. The wind is traveling at a high rate of speed this evening – so I don’t feel like walking around on the dark streets.
I read in the paper that President Roosevelt refused to have December 7 observed as a holiday. I see it very foolish to set 24 hours aside in observing the thing which really put into the conflict, taking millions of men away from their loved ones. After the war, yes, have December 7th a world-wide holiday, and let’s hope this commences with December 7, 1944. I very easily remember and will never forget that Sunday, afternoon, December 7, 1941. I was seated in a comfortable chair in the front room as a news broadcaster interrupted an orchestra and gave the report that Japan had struck Pearl Harbor “several minutes ago.”
Christmas Day 1943 will be at a low depth compared with any or all of my nineteen previous Christmas days. There will be no Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Christmas carols, programs, etc. And for these poor British children they will have to forget “Old Saint Nick” for the time being. In fact, they already have forgotten him. Their brothers and even fathers have gone to the fronts, while sisters and even mothers are busy in factories, plants, mills, etc. Furthermore, there are no more dolls, toy automobiles, bicycles, candy, trains, blackboards, drums, games, and all these things.
And then comes New Year’s Day – simply another day in the United Kingdom. No church bells and sirens will welcome 1944, no midnight movie, no crowds on the streets, no big athletic contests as the annual football games in the Rose, Sun, Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls in the United States.
Mr. Reber, Thanksgiving Day wasn’t a holiday here in Great Britain. December 7th will be observed in the hardest working day of the year; Christmas Day will be no holiday, and New Year’s Day will be observed likewise.
I may get some feeling of Christmas providing the Press-Heralds of the past five or six weeks succeed in reaching me. Please note my change of address. Please send all future copies to the address found on the envelope.
Mr. Reber, even though it is Saturday night and only nine o’clock (4 PM Eastern War Time), I think I shall feel my way to my quarters and “hit the hay” as we Americans put it. God bless you.
Pfc. Irvin Schwartz
Featured Image: Irvin Schwartz and his letter in the January 7, 1944 edition of the Press-Herald.