CARE packages: Christmas parcels at a time of rationing

Above left: the sender of the CARE packages, uncle Ed (in the centre) with his brother Harold and David’s cousins. Above right: David (centre) with his mother and sister Joan.

David Anstis remembers:

My uncle Ed lived a very modest life in New York but was very generous towards the family relatives left behind when he emigrated in 1913.

One form of this was to pay for Christmas CARE parcels – which were the equivalent of an edible Aladdin’s Cave of goodies, all in an exciting, travel-stained, stout cardboard box whose every space seemed utilised and in-filled with packets and tins.

Our family received, I think, CARE parcels three years running starting in 1949, at a time when rationing still obtained and food was generally sold unwrapped – let alone available in any variety.

As a boy, for instance, I well remember the usual Christmas chicken: pre-ordered, and clearly having  had a tough long life. And being required on Christmas Eve to gut it, remove the feathers and singe the skin.

In contrast, the CARE parcel contained a whole Christmas turkey (turkey? Yes!) in a tubular tin, all pre-cooked and immersed in the most delicious jelly one can imagine.

There was also a Christmas pudding ready to steam (at the time impossible to buy) and a memorable packet of rice with a cheerful picture of ‘Uncle Ben’ on it.

I don’t recall the many other treats but this certainly made our celebrations almost luxurious and, combined with the Rockwell Illustrated Saturday Evening Posts sent occasionally to us, presented a picture of an affluent, vigorous and highly desirable America to live in.

The Festival of Britain occurred in 1951; and its South Bank Exhibition’s gaiety and outstanding design was in marked contrast to the mean greyness of everyday life in Britain: and this I combine with the CARE Christmas parcels to show what life might really be like – well-nourished both in one’s stomach and in one’s senses and total living environment. Positive!

David explains the photo (above right):

I don’t have pictures of receiving a CARE parcel at Christmas – photo film was very difficult to get hold of in those days. However, the family moved from London to a cottage in Somerset in 1948, so the photos that I do have, pioneering away, are of that time. I was wearing ex-government surplus hat and leather jacket for outdoor work: there was no such thing as ‘old clothes’ from one’s own meagre wardrobe. It may also be noticed that there was no problem with excess body fat in those years!

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