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Sunpapers war correspondent Lee McCardell’s annual World War II Christmas letter became a front-page tradition

Maryland troops billeted in England undergo intensive advanced combat training Dec. 27, 1942. Lee McCardell, Sunpapers correspondent with the Marylanders, snapped these pictorial records of how the troops are getting ready for action.
Maryland troops billeted in England undergo intensive advanced combat training Dec. 27, 1942. Lee McCardell, Sunpapers correspondent with the Marylanders, snapped these pictorial records of how the troops are getting ready for action. (Lee McCardell/Baltimore Sun)

Early in 1942, Sunpapers war correspondent Lee McCardell left Baltimore and traveled to England, where he joined the 29th Division — the Blue and Gray — composed of National Guardsmen from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania who were training for the eventual invasion of Northern Europe, which would not happen until 1944.

It would be nearly three years before McCardell reunited with his wife and three daughters — one who was born while he was overseas — who lived on Wilmslow Road in Roland Park. In winter 1942, a homesick McCardell, like other Americans engaged in the war effort, was away from home for the first time at Christmas.

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Stationed at Tidworth, a British Army post near Salisbury, England, he decided to write a letter to his daughters, but then realized if he sent it by regular post it would not reach Baltimore until after New Year’s, so he decided to cable it as a press dispatch to The Evening Sun.

McCardell’s three daughters, Mary Ann, Abby and Tillie, were pleased with the letter, which he always signed “Dada.”

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In 1943, he wrote a Christmas letter from London. On Christmas Eve 1944, while covering Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army, he wrote from Luxembourg, as the Battle of the Bulge raged on in the snows of the Ardennes, during the worst winter in Europe in a century.

“Dear Children, the real name of the town where I am is Luxembourg, but on Christmas Eve, I’d rather call it ‘toy land,’” McCardell wrote. “Yesterday it snowed, and now Luxembourg, with its funny houses, sharp church steeples, ruined castles and high arched bridges looks exactly like a little town in a Christmas garden under a Christmas tree.

“In a world of miserable men this Christmas Eve, who am I that I should be comforted by the knowledge that my three children will sleep this night in warm, dry beds; that you’ll awake tomorrow morning, bright-eyed in a cheerful house with a roof and all its doors and windows?

“So many, many other children of Europe will sleep tonight in homes without roofs, without doors or windows. Many will sleep on straw in cold, damp cellars where Santa Claus, even if he should extend his continental activities from St. Nicholas Day through tonight, will never find them.

“At least there is peace in your world of good will. Good night. God bless you as bountifully as he has blessed me. And a Merry Christmas.

Dada”

With the end of the war in Europe in 1945, McCardell returned to Baltimore, and with the coming of Christmas, his editor suggested he write a Christmas letter to the children of war-ravaged Europe.

“This is the eve of the white Christmas so many American soldiers used to sing about. You must remember the tune of the song. The bands always played it at the Christmas parties the American soldiers used to give for you,” McCardell opened the letter which he addressed “Dear Children.”

In describing Baltimore’s Christmas Eve, he wrote, “There is an abundance of all the things most children of the Christian countries of northern Europe used to know at Christmas time — food, sweets, toys, warmth, music, Christmas greens.”

McCardell said a Christmas tree cost $3. “That’s a lot of money, even in America for a Christmas tree. Most of the trees will be decorated with strings of colored electric lights. New strings of lights cost $5.95 this year — a lot of money for lights in America.”

He observed that Christmas Day will be a “joyful morning in all those American homes where soldiers and sailors who have been away from their families for the last three years or four Christmases are home again.”

But for the children of war-torn Europe, it would be a hard Christmas.

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Sunpapers war correspondent Lee McCardell snapped this picture of Maryland troops in England during World War II.
Sunpapers war correspondent Lee McCardell snapped this picture of Maryland troops in England during World War II. (Lee Mc/Baltimore Sun)

“Real hunger and real want,” he wrote, were conditions most Americans couldn’t embrace. “No American who stayed at home seems to have the faintest notion of how scarce food and shelter are over there. And, of course, none who stayed at home can be expected to carry in their hearts any haunting memories of hungry, undernourished babies and little children in shattered houses, and cold and damp cellars.”

He added a measure of hope. “And while you won’t begin to have all the good things we have, it will be a joyful Christmas for you, too — your first Christmas in peace for six years.”

Describing himself as a “pessimistic sentimentalist” and a “natural-born sucker,” he wrote that he would enjoy Christmas, but lamented, “I wish it were going to be more of a peace Christmas, less of a victory celebration.

“God grant you a happier New Year.

“Lee McCardell.”

McCardell was assistant managing editor of The Evening Sun at his death in 1963. He was 61.

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