Golden Years: Christmas During World War II

During World War II, Yale professors still wore tweeds, but the boys they taught would soon graduate into khaki. Behind Woolsey Hall are the many rows of names of the boys who never came back.

My father, Paul Press, was a riveter who made M-70 rifles at the Winchester factory on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. His brother Irving ran the PX store at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. My grandfather assisted the war effort overseeing custom-tailored uniform orders for candidates at the Officer’s Training School at Yale. J. Press was on a wartime footing along with the rest of America. The Princeton store was closed in 1942 when the entire staff joined the army. Civilian business necessarily diminished with shortages of inventory and customers during the war years.

My prescient grandfather prepared for the European conflict in the late ’30s and loaded up all available English goods before the start of war in September, 1939. Cases of Welch, Margretson shirts and ties, Twin Steeples hosiery, Druhmohr Shetland sweaters and Locke hats occupied all the space in the basement.

I was six years old in 1944 when grandfather Jacobi set up chairs and blankets for us to watch the Christmas Day Parade on the balcony in front of his office of the J. Press store on York Street. The wartime spectacle offered a key spot to view the brigades of Sherman tanks and armored vehicles clanking their treads towards the rally downtown for speeches and songs later on the New Haven Green. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines blared their bugles and beat the drums in military cadence to “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” The back of the parade featured All-America Yale Football Captain Paul Walker, the Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell of his time, riding on top of a Ford truck garbed in a Santa Claus suit and beard, both a part of and yet removed from the instuments of war. He directed his Winston Churchiil “V for Victory” salute right to me on the balcony.

Spiffed up in the army uniform my grandfather gave me for Christmas, I returned the salute standing stiffly at attention until the grand old flag finally passed me by. When I got home I couldn’t wait to turn on the Victrola to play my favorite Spike Jones record: “When The Fuhrer Says He Is The Master Race, Sieg Heil (flatulate), Sieg Heil (flatulate), Right In The Fuehrer’s Face!” — RICHARD PRESS

13 Comments on "Golden Years: Christmas During World War II"

  1. The Spike Jones song that Mr. Press listened to on the Victrola:

  2. Great post. What a testament to the American spirit of pulling together in times of crisis, and a story about J. Press to boot. I especially like the bit about the Princeton store closing after everyone joined the Army. Brilliant! Thanks, Mr. Press.

  3. Roy R. Platt | December 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm |

    And the same song, given the full Disney treatment in an Academy Award winning Donald Duck cartoon….

  4. A small thing, perhaps, Mr. Press, but just like Marine, a Sailor from the USN is always capitalised.

    I find it interesting your grandfather prepared for the war. So many had their heads in the sand for quite a long time prior to Pearl Harbor.

  5. “Yale professors still wore tweeds, but the boys they taught would soon graduate into khaki.”

    What a great line.

  6. Sailor now capitalized. Thanks for the catch.

  7. Gentleman Mac | December 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm |

    There are similar histories of closings and preparations at colleges in England, too. Most interesting.

  8. Whatever happened to Kionon?

  9. Vern Trotter | December 22, 2019 at 3:27 pm |

    Good story, Richard. I was five years old in 1944. My dad, Bill Trotter, was a Major League Baseball player during WW2, too old for the draft, having been too young for WW1 although two of his four brothers served in the Great War. All major leaguers were required to work in the defense industry during the off seasons. He worked for Western Electric in St. Louis, wearing a fedora and leather bomber jacket to work each day. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

  10. Flash forward to 1969, I was 11 and watching Walter Cronkite every night to see if my dad had been shot down. Nothing has ever grabbed my attention like the looming terror of war.

  11. I think it may have been Two Steeples hosiery of Wigston Magna, Leicester, rather than Twin Steeples.
    The name reflected the fact that Wigston had two parish churches, both my Mom and Grandma worked there for a time.
    I believe It’s now a housing development.

  12. Hardbopper | March 24, 2022 at 1:43 pm |

    The rifle Mr. Press refers to is the Winchester Model 70, a .3 Springfield (30-06),
    The M-70 is a Serbian AK-47 knockoff, built during the Cold War.

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