Christmas, 1941

by Harry on December 23, 2008

From the amazing BFI Archive on youtube.

My older children watched, riveted and in one case a tear rolling down her cheek until, in the last scene, we tried to imagine trying to control their uncontrollable 2 year old brother down in the tube station at midnight.



Eszter Hargittai 12.23.08 at 7:07 pm

This was very interesting, thank you. It’s really fascinating to think about all the things that have changed since then and all the things that haven’t.


dj 12.24.08 at 2:44 am

At the beginning of the clip the announcer says, “Christmas in the year of the Blitz” and says explicitly it is 1940. So why label it as 1941? Or is there something I’m missing?


David J. Williams 12.24.08 at 2:55 am

yup, it’s 1940 alright. The blitz was over by december 1941.

still, very cool. thanks a ton for posting.


ErrolC 12.24.08 at 3:18 am

BFI Films mis-labelled it when putting it on youtube. Even if you miss the 1940 reference at the start of the narration, it is clear that it is then. Very much ‘England, alone and battered, carries on!’. The 1941 version (Hitler deep in Russia, Japanese successful everywhere, but America on board) would be rather different.


ErrolC 12.24.08 at 3:21 am

BFI Films mis-labelled it
Actually, I correct myself. It was probably released in (January) 1941, so “Christmas Under Fire (1941)” is correct, but easily mis-understood.


Barry 12.24.08 at 3:30 am

Thanks for this, Henry.


Sumana Harihareswara 12.24.08 at 5:02 pm

The line about the storm being a true friend with no cash-and-carry rules is quite the jibe at the US.

And the visual tube station-stable analogy got to me.


MQ 12.24.08 at 5:48 pm

It appears to be part of the propaganda campaign designed to get the U.S. into WWII, so it matters a lot whether it was December 1940 or December 1941.

Honestly, and don’t take this the wrong way, I feel a lot more ambivalent about WWII propaganda than I used to. Post-Iraq I feel much more aware of the ways in which the “good war” served as a kind of founding myth to justify militarism during the Cold War and after. That may be more a U.S. than a British issue.


a 12.24.08 at 5:49 pm

And by coincidence, I am listening to King’s Chapel Choir at the moment…


Eszter Hargittai 12.24.08 at 7:28 pm

Actually, I correct myself. It was probably released in (January) 1941, so “Christmas Under Fire (1941)” is correct, but easily mis-understood.

So your suggestion is correct then, it is Christmas 1940?


notedscholar 12.24.08 at 10:41 pm

Interesting. I wonder if Hitler saw this.



Bob B 12.24.08 at 11:03 pm

The film relates to Christmas 1940 – it revived memories as I was 2 then: 1941 is the year of the copyright when the film was released.

In September 1941, Charles Linbergh delivered this speech at Des Moines, Iowa:

” . . The three most important groups who have been pressing this country [America] toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration. . .”


virgil xenophon 12.25.08 at 4:08 am


I’m confused. Are you trying to infer by labeling “the good war” a “founding myth” that the Allied efforts in whole or in part were somehow unscrupulous/illegitimate and therefore a poisoned well from which to draw valid precedents upon which to act in the future? And exactly what sort of “militarism” displayed by America or Britain during the cold war did/do you object? The part about forming and arming NATO to reject the Soviets and basing US troops in Europe? The role America played in the Cuban missile crises? Or are all of your questions about the legitimacy of America’s actions wrapped up in the war in Vietnam? Or was it the resistance to Communist led movements in South and Central America that you find “militaristic?” Or do you see other examples of American “militarism” rooted in the “founding myth?”–like our present-day entanglements in the Middle East perhaps? And what metrics do you use to describe/measure “militarism?” Seems like a pretty broad label tossed around pretty casually to me….Just askin’, that’s all……


Bob B 12.25.08 at 11:08 am

C’mon – America was dragged into the European war on 11 December 1941 against its popular prevailing sentiment. See the account in William Shirer: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (chp.25) on sentiments in Congress after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941:

“My own impression in Washington at that moment was that it might be difficult for President Roosevelt to get Congress to declare war on Germany. There seemed to be a strong feeling in both Houses as well as in the Army and Navy that the country ought to concentrate its efforts on defeating Japan and not take on the additional burden of fighting Germany at the same time.”

Britain had declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. Germany declared war on America on 11 December 1941.

Iterrogated by the Soviets after WW2 Europe had ended, Von Rundstedt – CinC West in the German high command – was asked which was the decisive battle of the war. He responded, the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 and he was right. Had that battle for air supremacy over southern England been lost in 1940 or had Britain sued for peace – as Hitler believed – there could have been no Normandy invasion in June 1944.

For a four part TV doc on the Battle of Britain, try: Spitfire Ace 1 of 4

Btw the Soviets signed a friendship treaty with Nazi Germany on the 28 September 1939 when Britain and France were already at war. [Norman Davies: Europe (OUP, 1996) p.1000].

The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 came as a complete surprise to Stalin – despite warnings from incoming intelligence from Soviet agents which he dismissed as “misinformation”.


Bob B 12.25.08 at 12:14 pm

“In the Boston Sunday Globe of November 10, 1940, [US] Ambassador Joe Kennedy shared his opinion: ‘Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.’ His controversial views would make national news — and permanently damage his hopes for elected office.”

He was shortly replaced as ambassador thereafter.

Listen to one of the Americans, Ed Murrow, who stayed behind in London to report on the course of the war in Europe – the link includes records of CBS broadcasts by Murrow as bombers were flying overhead:

Pilots who came to Britain from overseas to fly fighters in the Battle of Britain:

Australia (32 pilots), Barbados (1), Belgium (28), Canada (112), Czechoslovakia (88), France (13), Ireland (10), Jamaica (1), Newfoundland (now a province of Canada) (1), New Zealand (127), Poland (145), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) (3), South Africa (25), and the US (9).


sg 12.25.08 at 4:12 pm

Or was it the resistance to Communist led movements in South and Central America that you find “militaristic?”

Is there some kind of christmas prize for this?


BFI YouTube Channel 12.26.08 at 8:59 am

Given the debate about the date of this film, thought I should clarify… Yes, the film was shot in 1940, but not released until 1941. It is usual to supply the release date for films rather than the production date (which is often more difficult to determine). Many wartime propaganda films recycled footage from previous years/films, so using the release date is particularly important.


Bob B 12.26.08 at 10:29 pm

For comparison, try this collection of newsreel clips from those times:

1940-41 War comes to England

And this for just one day during the Battle of Britain:

One day in the sky of britain 1940:

To put this dreadful history into better perspective, Britain’s population in 1940 was c. 40 million, almost exactly half that of Germany plus Austria at 79 million.

In round numbers, RAF fighter pilot losses during the Battle of Britain were just under 600, approximately a quarter of the Luftwaffe aircrew losses during the battle.

All told during the war 1939-45, civilian losses in Britain from air raids were just over 60,000. About 65,000 aircrew were lost in RAF Bomber Command during the war as a result of bombing raids over mainland Europe but then that was about equal to German civilian losses in Hamburg alone from the 1000 bomber raids during the summer months of 1943.

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