On The War Memorial Trail…..The Christmas Dinner Heist In WWII England

December 13, 2022. If Christmas Day means a special meal in your household, you aren’t alone.  In our household, we follow the traditional meal that I grew up with for Christmas Day – roast turkey with stuffing, vegetables, mushroom gravy, and cranberry sauce.

…Canadian soldier Frank MacEwen met the Pearce family…

20221024_100956 Frank MacEwen

WWII soldier Frank MacEwen.  (Photo courtesy of Duane MacEwen)

Planning for our traditional Christmas meal was on my mind when Duane MacEwen of New Dominion, Prince Edward Island, mentioned that his father, Frank MACEWEN, served with the Royal Canadian Armoured Service Corps, and was stationed in Woking, Surrey, England during WWII.

Duane explained that his father and “… his army buddies routinely walked down Barrack Path to the local pub…”  Along the way they passed the home of Frank Pearce, who lived with his wife and daughters.  A WWI veteran, Frank Pearce was an air raid warden in London during WWII.

When the oldest daughter, Betty, had her 16th birthday, she “…complained to her mother that she had no male friends to invite to her birthday as they were all on duty or serving abroad.  Mrs Pearce told Betty to go and invite some of the young Canadian soldiers who walked down Barrack Path in front of their house.  Betty did this and welcomed my dad and his close army buddies in for Betty’s birthday. This led to close ties that the family shares to this day…

Duane recalled Mr Pearce telling him that in the weeks before Christmas in 1944, “…my father questioned him quite a few times, asking what their family would have for their Christmas dinner….

…Mock Turkey in place of a traditional turkey dinner during WWII….

It was a reasonable question as in WWII Europe, food supplies were scarce.  Mainland Europe was under occupation.  Great Britain may not have been under occupation, but was regularly attacked and supplies limited.  In 1940, food rationing began.  People were encouraged to grow vegetables in ‘victory gardens’ and to find alternatives to traditional cuts of meat.

By Christmas 1944, Britain was in the 6th year of war and the 5th for rationing.  Duane recalled Mr Pearce telling his dad that “… due to the severe rationing, he hoped to possibly go out to the country to see if he could scrounge up a bit of ham or something for his family…

Christmas was the one day in the year that people just wanted to forget there was a war, and as the holiday approached, recipes for making a special meal became creative. While many in rural areas were able to have meals using rabbits or wild birds, ‘Mock Turkey’ out of sausage meat and vegetables was on many dinner tables.

Mock Turkey

A Mock Turkey made from sausage meat, bread crumbs, herbs and seasoning held together with grated onions and apples, arranged into the shape of a turkey, using parsnips for legs, and then covered with bacon. (Photo source: http://calmlycreative.blogspot.com/2012/10/mock-turkey.html)

….Frank MacEwen and his friends brought a Christmas surprise…

The Pearce family soon learned why Frank MacEwen was so interested in the family’s Christmas dinner plans.  In the early morning of December 25, 1944, “…Mr Pearce told me there was an awful pounding on his front door….

Thinking he was being summoned for air raid warden duties, … he rushed downstairs but to his surprise saw my father, who said ‘Let me in quick Frank and close the door behind me’….

Mr Pearce quickly saw that “… my father’s great coat was well extended around his belly. Dad opened his coat to reveal a silver tray resplendent with a huge, cooked turkey complete with some trimmings….

20211011_122555 Xmas meal

Christmas dinner at the Valkenburg house with turkey and the trimmings. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The turkey and trimmings were only the beginning of the Christmas surprise for the Pearce family.  “…It wasn’t long before Rollin ‘Roly’ CHAMBERS, of Woodstock, Ontario, was knocking on the door.  He too had more food for this Christmas feast.  A little later, Glen LECKY, of Chipman, New Brunswick, entered with Christmas beverages for all…

A few years ago, Betty Pearce told Duane that “…she remembered the ‘best Christmas ever’ due to Dad and his friends.  It was miraculous as they were so used to rationing and doing without…

….Who stole our turkey dinner?…

After Christmas, the Canadian soldiers disappeared for several weeks, leaving the Pearce family to wonder if they had been deployed elsewhere.  “…It wasn’t normal for them not to drop in for a visit on their way to the pub or for a cup of tea and company….

While British civilians had food supplies rationed, Canadian soldiers were well-fed and nourished.  So it was not a surprise to learn from Duane that “…it soon came to light that a turkey and all the trimmings were stolen from the Sergeants’ Mess and there was a special investigation into this burglary.  The Sergeant Major stated that someone was going to pay dearly for the theft…

Everyone in the company was confined to barracks for two weeks or until the culprits were found.  The theft was never solved.  “….No one in the company told on the boys.  Maybe they didn’t know or else had a great laugh at their generosity with the Sergeants’ Mess dinners….

Frank MacEwen was discharged from the Canadian Army in February 1946.  He married Evelyn Found and lived on the Island until his death in 1990.

20221024_101604 Oct 24 2022 Ann and Duane MacEwen

Ann and Duane MacEwen.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Thank you to Duane MacEwen for sharing the story about the way his father and friends made Christmas memorable for the Pearce family. Do you have a story to tell?  Email Pieter at memorialtrail@gmail.com, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

….Want to know more about Christmas 1944 in Britain?….

To learn more about Christmas 1944 in Britain, you can watch ‘Wartime Farm Christmas Special’ on YouTube:

And here are links to two websites that may be of interest:

…Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://onthewarmemorialtrail.com/ or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

Front cover OnTheWarMememorialTrailinEuropeDaria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten‘ is available in print and e-book formats.  Net proceeds of book sales help support research costs and the cost of maintaining this blog. For more information on the book, please see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.

© Daria Valkenburg

3 thoughts on “On The War Memorial Trail…..The Christmas Dinner Heist In WWII England

  1. Pieter/Daria, It was good of Duane to share that special story. Give him my regards when you see him next. Kent Caldwell ________________________________

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