The Darkest Christmas
December 1942 and a World at War
Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2022
Paperback 256pp RRP: $32.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, November 2023
Harmsen’s fascinating ‘smorgasbord’ is a ‘travelogue’ around the world from East to West. The chapter for each country visited describes how the festive season of Christmas developed in the countries embracing Christianity, and how Christmas is regarded and/or tolerated in non-Christian countries. The major war occurrences for the year and their impact upon the society at Christmas are described in detail, with ample personal anecdotes rounding out the text.
The Introduction describes the release of Bing Crosby’s immortal hit I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and a summary of its impact in combat zones where it was anything but a white Christmas and the nostalgia generated in troops thousands of miles from a home experiencing winter.
Starting with Australia’s controversial government austerity drive during the Christmas period, the impact of the spending by American servicemen more than compensated Australian businesses. New Zealand saw a street battle in Wellington between the Marine Raider battalion on leave after its battle at Guadalcanal and New Zealand troops. Then, it’s off to New Guinea where the Japanese were determined to fight to the last man after having been pushed back up the Kokoda Track.
Japan had been at war against China since 1938 and Christmas celebrations had virtually ended but Japan used the season to broadcast propaganda into Allied countries. There was consideration given for the prisoners of war around south-east Asia. China, Burma and India are next visited and the Russian release of Polish prisoners into the sub-continent is discussed.
The world-wide Christmas radio messages by George VI and the Pope were delivered on schedule. Winston Churchill continued his ‘workaholic’ approach whilst the Americans were experiencing their first Christmas without fathers and sons, but with optimism and plans for their return home. In Germany, Goebbels continued to micro-manage the German propaganda machine that many Germans were beginning to realize was just that, while Himmler was obsessed with providing for those serving outside of Germany with gifts from the enormous warehouses containing valued items removed from Jews prior to their execution. The ultimate fate of some German units in Russia was becoming more evident, and the Russians used Christmas Day to launch a major attack on their Christmas-observing foes.
Stories of benevolence, tolerance and generosity in the most unusual circumstances punctuate the text. Individuals who exhibited great courage against tremendous odds have been recognised.
A generous collection of high-quality photographs have been included as an insert. An unexpected, but extremely interesting Appendix lists the post-1942 fate of those appearing in the text. Excellent Endnotes, Bibliography and Index round out this very interesting approach that provides a valuable holistic ‘snapshot’ from the Second World War.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.