IT was December 1946, after the Second World War when Syd reached home after fighting for the freedom of this country, Great Britain.
Syd had recently been demobbed from the First Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.
He hadn't seen his wife and family for six agonising years. His two daughters were strangers to him after the long years of absence.
All eager eyes were on the goodies that Dad had carried home in his kitbag. His wife Joan wiped the tears from her eyes as this familiar stranger shared out the spoils of carefully carried and dearly acquired presents that were hard come by in Britain's austere rationing and monotonous days!
Mom had kept her husband Syd's photo on the old and worn out piano, from which the badly out-of-tune instrument was issuing forth a rendition of Home Sweet Home, and where the kids were anticipating Christmas carols to be sung instead!
Suffice it to say, they finally got their wish!
My wife recalls them, along with immediate and close friendly neighbours, all clambering around the kitchen table. They were staring at bananas, and other fruit in a bowl with nuts, and the sweets Mother had scrimped and scraped for in order that Syd's home-coming, despite the meagre rations allowed for folk in the general and hard times, was as fulfilling as possible!
Only happy laughter indicated that hostilities had ended for the time being at least?
With eyes wide open we looked in wonder at the contents of the bowl, since few could remember what an orange and banana looked like. Perhaps we hoped that a few nuts and a shiny new penny would find their way into the stockings, darned to perfection and hung upon the brass poster bed-rail on Christmas Eve.
Dad's home-coming was marred by the news that his comrade at arms had been killed fighting in Crete.
Syd and John had become separated during the battle and had not met up again after hostilities had ceased.
The painful and sobering news shocked Syd and he instinctively planned to visit John's widow, who lived but a short distance from Syd's family home, and in a quiet suburban part of the town.
My wife and her older sister were instructed to take a freshly-killed chicken, eggs, fruit and nuts with the seasonal Christmas pudding and a bottle of wine around to their humble abode, where it was placed on the front step ready for the observers to see the joy on the faces of the needy recipients.
There was agonising uncertainty for what seemed a lifetime! Supposing they are not at home, they looked at each other with bated breath.
They willed the front door to open, as agonising seconds which seemed like an eternity slipped by.
The door of the council house slowly opened and the slim and pretty young women glanced tentatively out. About to quickly withdraw inside she saw the parcel of gifts on the step and stooping suspiciously, she gathered up the parcel like it might go off with a bang. The forlorn young woman read the brief few words that Syd had written on the notepaper and the two sisters observed the tears that burst forth from the grateful woman. Later that day, Syd and Joan had a visit from a tearful though extremely grateful young widow.
"Since I received the telegram from the MOD, stating that John had been killed in the line of duty and what with the shock of losing a dear husband and partner, your kindness and sacrifice has given me hope and strength to face the future. I'm sure that if John was here, he would endorse my words," said Gwen.
"Will you and your children take supper with us?" said Mom, "and since it is Christmas Eve, the more the merrier."
Gwen said: "I don't want to impose on your warm welcome, I'm sure that you and Syd have much to say to each other.
"After all, it has been many years since you have had physical and mental contact with each other!" Mom gazed intently at Gwen before replying to her: "We hope that Syd and I will have much time to make up for the inevitable lost time," said Joan not wishing to say anything that would cause the unfortunate wife and mother of a lost husband concerning the horror and futility of conflict to be further reminded of her trauma.
The joy and harmony in respect of those departed was brought together in the run-up to Christmas Day. The day came to a close far too quickly as well-wishers popped in to give their sincere wishes to those who appeared to be enjoying the respite after long years of national shortages, and also to gaze in awe at the fruit bowl, since many of the young visitors had never seen real fruit, only pictures.
My wife and I could look back wistfully concerning what was indeed a memorable Christmas a home-coming of a dear father!
A Merry Christmas to all.
24 Elmay Road,