Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Belated Christmas Treat

It perhaps comes as no surprise that I was a rampant certificate collector as a girl. At my Catholic primary school, some children would take it upon themselves to collect rubbish in the yard and would then inform someone in authority of their selflessness in order to receive a holy card for their good deed. (From recollection, this sometimes involved presentation of a fully-laden metal garbage bin.) I cannot say for certain that I did not jump on the bandwagon when I learned of the largesse that picking up some chip packets and balled-up Gladwrap could bring.

Certificates were seemingly valued in 1916 as much as 1986. I bought this fantastic one that was presented to the dutiful Gwendoline Hatton on eBay. Somehow it has made its way down through the family for over a century in perfect condition, showing just how important her work was in perhaps knitting some socks or bundling up some clothes to send to a soldier. If you can't make them out, there are Girl Guides and Boy Scouts spelling out the letters "A Happy Xmas" with semaphore. My mother would have said that they have taken the "Christ" out of Christmas, but there are only so many flag-bearing boys and girls that can be fit on a small piece of card.

It's a small sign of how children were inserted into both the war effort and the imagined task of maintaining the British Empire. I wonder how the current fighting in the Middle East is being presented in schools today, if at all? I remember after 9/11 there was solemn discussion about how to prevent children being afraid of terrorism if they had seen the attack on the news, yet so much print culture of the Victorian and Edwardian period deliberately exposes children to news of war, sacrifice and potential invasion. Though it's hard to be too worried by the cheerful looking soldier and sailor on this certificate who appear rosy-cheeked and well-fed.

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