The Mission Treat – Christmas 1917

Miss Lucy has asked me to tell you about the treat, and no-one will be able to correct me, for no-one else was there all the time, so I set out with a light heart. This year the Mission Treat presented two new features. Miss Gillman, who, as usual, made all the arrangements, was faced last term with the problem “What would console for the absence of a tea?” but the solution “The presence of a conjuror” was a most happy one, especially when supplemented by at least the semblance of a meal-but this is to begin in the middle. I was out at Chorley Wood, where the supply of cakes is extremely limited, so in answer to a demand from Miss Gillman for ten shillings worth of buns, I rose early on the first of January and caught an express to Aldersgate ­street and set out on my quest. I took up a suit case with me, and spent the morning roaming about Ludgate Hill, the Strand, and other delightful hunting grounds, gathering in gingerbread, wondering all the time whether, if my case burst open, and scattered its contents, I should be able to get witnesses to prove I was not really food-hoard­ing. In the afternoon, laden with my prizes, I met Miss Gillman with hers at the Elephant and Castle, and we went off to St. Andrew’s together.
It was very dull not to have any of you with us this time, but we hope very much that there will be a double number next year, as you could not be invited this.
We found Miss Chittenden and Mrs. James, who do so much in the Sunday School, had everything ready, and that the usual crowd was assembling outside. This year more children came than we have ever had before, about one hundred and eighty, and, as a large space was taken by a platform and curtains for the conjuror; when they were allowed in, the room was packed. They all settled down very quietly, squeezing themselves up, and the last comers forming a row along the platform. Then Mr. Luscombe, the new vicar, came, and he was followed by the conjuror, who was a veritable magician. Very early in the proceedings he asked for the best-looking boy in thee school to be his assistant on the platform, and you may imagine the nudgings, and elbowings and delicious remarks of the boys before Ben Russell, an old friend of ours, was pushed out from among them. To add to his confusion, and the joy of the assembled company, the conjuror would not believe he was quite the best-looking boy (privately, I may say, he is very plain), and when he did accept him as helper, insisted oil the most elaborate, of bows to the audience. Then we all went to Wonderland. Coins flew about and appeared in all sorts of Impossible places, and burnt handkerchiefs, shaken out, were seen to be large Union Jacks with no trace of harm. The paper famine apparently has not yet penetrated to the Magic Realm, for both Ben and the con­juror had paper mines in their very mouths, yards and yards all different colours strewing oil the ground, but the most wonderful bit of magic I am almost afraid to tell, for all the House Mistresses will want this magician, and I want him myself. After remarking that now that eggs were twopence each – derision of his knowledge of prices on the part of the assembly-he thought conjured eggs were the best, he then and there caused Ben and others to put their heads in a soft bag that both he and Ben had stamped on, and to crow loudly. One crow was quite enough, an egg appeared at once at the bottom of the bag. Six eggs were produced in this fascinating manner. N.B.-The address of the magician will not be given to applicants.
But time will run away so. After a most joyful hour, Ben said good­bye, with another elegant salute, and the conjuror departed with his magic box, to delight another audience. Still packed like sardines the children waited patiently while we brought them buns and ginger­bread. It was impossible to let them roam round, it was such a crowd even seated, but excellent manners made it quite easy to take the plates round.
I started off with a plate of buns in one hand and gingerbread in the other, and, as I had rather feared, they all said “bun, please”, gingerbread being, I suppose, an unknown quantity. When the bun plate was empty there was nothing for it but to face the ginger-bread, but it was taken with evident regret. only politeness (St. Andrew’s manners) preventing refusal. We had enough for two cakes each, so I soon started out again, this time with buns only, for the gingerbread was all eaten. Can you imagine, lily amusement when I was asked by the very boys who had taken it so unwillingly, “Isn’t there any more of the other, Miss?”
When the last crumb had disappeared Mr. Luscombe spoke to them about New Year’s Day, and new efforts to be more regular and punctual at Sunday School. He spoke too of our work for them and thought of them at Salisbury, all through the year, and I wish you could have heard the great clap of thanks they gave you. I said I should tell you about it, and all about thee treat as soon as I came back, and that you always wanted to hear about them, and they clapped us again. Then they came up, one by one, to receive gift, and “silently stole away” to hurry home through the darkness. This year they were very quiet, except just while the conjuror was cracking his jokes. They are so often up at night and must be so tired! If only we could share the beauty and the safety and the peace of our dear hill-top with them! Well, it was good to think that, even for one brief hour they had laughed in entire forgetfulness of that grey reality that daily presses upon them, life in wartime.
Presents for the Mission treat:
27 shirts, 34) dresses and skirts, 8 blouses, 32 petticoats, 9 boys’ knickers, 7 dolls, 21 scarves, 10 mittens, 4 pairs gloves, 9 pairs socks, 3 bed coven, 2 caps and mufflers, 9 bonnets and caps, 4 girls’ knickers, 1 nightdress, 1 chemise, 34 pinafores, 3 stays, 1 petticoat bodice, 2 baby vests, 5 baby bonnets, 1 woolly belt, 4 baby woolly things, 41 toys.