Wednesday, 23 December 2020

A Chorister's Christmas Day 1942

The 1993 edition of the Lichfield Cathedral School magazine printed the following account of Christmas Day for the 24 choristers in Lichfield in 1942. It was an edited version of the original, which had been written for, and published in, the Jersey Evening Post in December 1992.

Christmas morning dawned sharp and bitterly cold - but then winter mornings were always cold in those days, for efficient central heating and double glazing were unknown. Jack Frost had painted his beautiful crystal patterns on the huge windows of the dormitory, and putting ones bare feet on the cold bare boards was like a mediaeval torture.

But that was nothing to the shock of taking off one's pyjama top, queuing to go into the bathroom and there bending over a bath of cold water to have a saucepanful poured over your head and shoulders. This morning ritual was considered good for both body and soul! Scrambling frantically into grey shorts, shirts, socks and pullovers and sturdy black shoes, our internal central heating was fired up when we then all had to run around the Cathedral Close in a clockwise direction until our blood pounded through our bodies.

Minutes later 24 pink-cheeked little faces queued up in the dining room for a bowl of porridge followed by bread and jam and mugs of scalding hot tea from a large and very shiny urn.
After breakfast it was out into the cold and a race down to the choir practice room. We never walked in those days - running was one way of keeping warm. There, sitting at his piano, was the Organist and Choirmaster, a plump, forbidding little man whose beady eye, enlarged by his small but thick-lensed glasses, could chill the heart of the most ebullient small boy.

Scales, scales and more scales were followed by the hymns, psalms and responses which would be part of the day's services, and then we went through the carols for the morrow. There were no lessons on Christmas Day, but after a brief break we were all in the Cathedral choir room donning red cassocks and white surplices for Matins. After nearly a year of seven services a week, we were now old hands at the game and to a nine-year old veteran, the responses came naturally and almost without thought.

During sermons we were allowed to draw or read. Hidden, as we were behind shoulder-high choir stalls, we played 'battleships' or read the Magnet or Beano while some doddery old Prebendary droned on and on from the pulpit on the after-life and how to go to the right place. After matins we had some free time to race around the classroom and play with what toys our parents had managed to find for us, before filing in for Christmas dinner (not lunch as it is today), which was as good as cook and the school staff could manage in those hard times.

The evening of Christmas Day was special because we had a conjurer. Looking back on it, he was not a very good conjurer and smelled of stale cigarettes and ale, but he tried hard despite the fact that his lighter would not work when he wanted to bring a lighted candle from under his jacket. When at last it did, as I recall, he set fire to the lining of his jacket. But he did have a real live rabbit which he produced from a top hat.

Yet even in this hour of joy we were still choristers. We were not allowed to shout or cheer because of our precious throats. Apparently a year or so previously, a conjurer had encouraged the children to shout back when he called out "Is everybody happy?" He made them shout louder and louder and the next day none of them could sing a note. So, at seven o'clock, 24 tired little choirboys went up to the dorms. 

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