The Fires of Perfect Liberty: Labouring Men and Women of England, 1851-1951, Part Nine.   Leave a comment

Part Nine: The Road to 1945 and Beyond, 1941-51 (1/3)

        

In 1940 an American journalist writing for the New York Herald Tribune commented that Hitler is doing what centuries of English history have not accomplished – he is breaking down the class structure of England. A. J. P. Taylor saw the Second World War as a brief period in which the English people felt they belonged to a truly democratic community. As the war progressed after the Blitz of August 1940-April 1941, more and more people were involved, including women and children. The mobilisation of national resources had a profound effect on the experience of individuals and families. At the same time, it sharpened awareness of social problems (for example through the evacuation of children from slum areas) and encouraged discussion of them (for example, through adult education in the Armed Services). In addition, the very destruction brought about by the Blitz presented new opportunities for the rebuilding of towns and cities in a more modern style.

029 (2)In Coventry, the ideas of reconstruction and rebirth were prevalent in the images of the phoenix, which were inescapable. Much of the credit for that must go to Donald Gibson, the City’s first architect. The dust had hardly settled before the Coventry Standard gave Gibson a public platform from which he proclaimed his vision of a planned city, with every street designed in relation to the rest. As the Standard reported, while the effect of the raid was to be deplored, it had cleared the way for a replanning of Coventry which would never have been possible in peace time. While the old Capital Works Programme was dwarfed by the enormity of the task of rebuilding the semi-devastated city’s infrastructure, the events of November 1940 and April 1941 had provided an unexpected opportunity for the realisation of the plan for the city which had been drawn up before the outbreak of war, only to be shelved, seemingly for the duration of it. Now a strong case was made for the clearing of large tracts of land and the rebuilding of the city along new lines. The local Labour politicians shared Gibson’s planning ideas, and soon after the November raid the whole weight of central government was placed behind the movement for large-scale redevelopment. Sir John Reith, the Minister for Works, urged local politicians to be bold and radical in their redesign of the central area. The minister obviously saw the propaganda benefits, as well as the boost to national morale that would come from a grand scheme and warned the Corporation that piecemeal redevelopment would not bring about the sweeping new legislation needed to provide the national funds for Coventry’s restoration.

068 (2)At the highest national level, official reports were being published on health, social security, education and many other subjects, all of which drew a sharp contrast between the world before the war and the world as it might be. The very austerity of war-time conditions, including rationing, meant an emphasis on fair shares for all. This became relevant socially long before it became a political or propaganda slogan. So, too, did the concept of social solidarity. It was this concept that led, by the end of 1941, to George Orwell’s patriotism becoming militant, He no longer had any time to argue with pacifists on the Bloomsbury Left, socialists from his own upper-class background, with whom he had had serious rows in the late thirties over the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi-Soviet non-agression pact. He summed up the attitudes of such people in another essay, published in the July 1942 edition of Pacifism and War: A Controversy, accusing them of imagining…

…that one can somehow overcome the German army by lying on one’s back… an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen.

 

England, he went on, was the only great country he knew of where the intellectual elite were ashamed of their own nationality, too precious for patriotism, refusing to understand that it was one of the most populist sentiments of all, wired into actual living human communities and consciousness. What he rejected was the association between patriotism and conservatism. For him, the Home Guard was the first line of defence of a People’s Army, which needed intense training in street fighting. Although it has recently become the butt of many jokes, it grew to a strength of a million and three-quarters, organised in eleven hundred battalions, many based at large factories, railway companies, docks and transport depots. As in Wigan, Orwell recognised the plights of the individuals, a quarter of a million in London alone, who had been made homeless by the Blitz. By June 1941 two million homes had been damaged or destroyed by German bombing, over sixty per cent of the damage being inflicted on the capital. He believed that if this total war was being fought by them, along with the six million ordinary servicemen and servicewomen in uniform, including the ARP (Air Raid Patrol) and the WVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service), then it should also be fought for them.

In his 1941 essay, England Your England, Orwell wrote about his old school, that probably the battle of Waterloo was won the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. All this heartbreak, destruction and misery was only worthwhile if a country could be created that would finally give the miners of Wigan and Walsgrave-on-Sowe the common decencies of life – houses that were not verminous slums, nutritious food, schools that were not overcrowded, proper medical care, decent pensions for the aged and infirm. In the same essay, Orwell argued that the Britain that had gone into the war resembled a stuffy Victorian family with…

rich relations who have to be kowtowed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon… in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bed-ridden aunts… a family with the wrong members in control.

061J. B. Priestley (right), broadcasting to a radio audience almost as massive as Churchill’s, commented that the country had been bombed and burned into democracy. There were, by 1942, Labour ministers with their hands on the tiller of the economy, including Stafford Cripps. Orwell thought it unlikely, and certainly undesirable, that they should relinquish it. As he laid out in his 1941 essay, The English Revolution, this blueprint of the new socialist Britain needed to include the nationalisation of major industries – coal, railways, banks, utilities; the creation of a classless education system, limitations on incomes and the immediate granting of dominion status to India, with the right to full independence once the war was over. The House of Lords should be abolished as an absurd anachronism, but the monarchy should probably stay. The retention of the monarchy would show a power of assimilating the past which will shock foreign observers and sometimes make them doubt whether any revolution has happened.

 Many of those in government shared some of Orwell’s reformist zeal and were already looking forward towards a post-war Britain that would not, like the Britain of 1918, slide back into the raw inequalities of Victorian individualism. Long before victory was in sight, all sections of society began thinking about the post-war world, dreaming of a new order quite different from the old. Out of total war and all its horrors enormous hope was born and the idea of a New Jerusalem was conceived, but Orwell had no intention of wiping away all the icons of British heritage in the name of the new Jerusalem.

068 (3)When Churchill went stamping around the rubble of the Blitz, not just in Stepney (see picture) but also of Plymouth and Manchester, it was as if he were acting out a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry V, to be performed more professionally by Laurence Olivier in the 1944 film version, pretending to be a little touch of Harry in the night, stalking through the camp, listening to the moaning of ordinary foot-soldiers as they tried to remember what they were fighting for. This was Churchill’s special gift; that he could somehow connect with people with whom he had nothing in common whatsoever.

Orwell and Churchill drew on very different, though not mutually exclusive, versions of British history and visions of national community to explain why it was important that Britain fight on to the end. Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, to be resumed after the war, was the unfolding pageant of liberty, by which he meant parliamentary government within a democratic Empire/ Commonwealth. Orwell, too, was interested in ideas of Commonwealth, but more of the type of Oliver Cromwell’s time, which the Levellers tried to make more democratic, and in the tradition of the Chartists. Churchill thought it no accident that in 1942 the Luftwaffe deliberately set out on a Baedeker tour to destroy the greatest buildings of medieval and Georgian England: Canterbury, Norwich, York, Exeter and Bath. They were bombing their worst enemy, the heritage of England, and it was not just one built in stone.

The Nazis understood the symbolism which lay behind the architecture, and the effect that their iconoclasm could have on the local populations.

Despite these raids, the spirit of a new optimism can be traced back to the publication of the publication of the Beveridge Report in December 1942, which almost coincided with the Allied victory at El Alamein. The Report symbolised the idealism of social reconstruction. It was concerned with comprehensive social insurance and full employment but also promising that post-war government would be committed to giving freedom from want by securing to each a minimum income sufficient for subsistence. In other words, the British Crown would care for its subjects from cradle to grave. It sold 635,000 copies, surely a record for a government white paper. There was unanimous agreement about two things. First, that there should be no repetition of the fiasco which followed 1918, the nightmare of slump, unemployment and distress. Secondly, a set of very basic requirements was laid down: work for all, social security, a right to a decent standard of living, and genuine international cooperation. In 1942, Rowntree wrote in one of his letters of this imperative:

The whole of the social and economic life of the nation has been uprooted by the war as by an earthquake. Normal life must be reestablished when peace comes, and every progressively minded thinker is determined that the social and economic evils and injustices which the community suffered before the war must not be permitted in the new world which has to be created when the war is over.

In Parliament, it was not just Labour, but Liberal and even Tory MP’s who were behind this desire for change and reform. A number of Tories, the reform group that included Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and R. A. Butler, sensing a sea change in public opinion and anxious not to lose post-war elections, promised a great programme of social reform. More than this, the term Welfare State was invented by a key member of the Establishment, William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury.   William Beveridge was himself a Liberal. His Report, presented to Parliament in November 1942, stated the key principles of a welfare state as follows:

The first principle is that any proposals for the future, while they should use the full experience gathered in the past, should not be restricted by consideration of sectional interests established in the obtaining of that experience. Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field. A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not patching.

The second principle is that organisation of social insurance should be treated as one part only of a comprehensive policy of social progress. Social insurance fully developed may provide income security; it is an attack upon Want. But Want is only one of the five giants on the road of reconstruction and in some ways the easiest to attack. The others are Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

The third principle is that social security must be achieved by cooperation between the state and the individual. The State should offer security for service and contribution. The State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.

Social Security was inextricable from social solidarity for the authors of the Government White Paper of 1943 which sought to enact the recommendations of the Beveridge Report. In a matter so fundamental, they wrote, it is right for all citizens to stand in together, without exclusion based on differences of status, function or wealth. The argument was not merely that administrative problems would be simplified if structures were to become comprehensive, or universal, but that through universal schemes, concrete expression would be given to the solidarity and unity of the nation, which in war has been its bulwark against aggression and in peace will be its guarantee of success in the fight against individual want and mischance.

015 (2)In the meantime, a war still had to be won, one which on the ground, as in the air and at sea, was becoming increasingly violent in large-scale battles in the Desert or on the Russian Front, and in the emergence of civilian resistance movements on the continent. 1942 had been a terrible year militarily: Hong Kong, Singapore and Tobruk represented huge defeats for the British Empire, from which it could never be revived. Aneurin Bevan spoke of Churchill winning debate after debate while losing battle after battle, probably because he fought debates as if he were fighting the war, while fighting the war as if he were debating.

Having acquired a heroic stature on the Home Front in the first three years of war, the seventy-year-old Prime Minister concentrated increasingly on building the Atlantic Alliance, flying first to Casblanca (below) and then between London, Washington and Moscow, as well as to other destinations later in the war, for meetings of the Big Three. The Home Front was left increasingly to Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin, who although both Labour members of the War Cabinet, liked each other less than each liked Churchill. Bevin in particular took over the Churchillian rhetoric, giving it a fringe of social solidarity rather than of imperialist-jingoism:

015Everyone in the land is a soldier for liberty. We must regard ourselves as one army. We’re standing right up to it. Hitler’s success will be brought to nought, and the name of Britain will go down in history, not as a great imperialist nation but as a marvellous people in a wonderful island that stood at the critical moment in the world’s history between tyranny and liberty and won.

As if to echo Bevin, a Midland plumber commented to the government’s Mass Observation survey on People in Production in 1942 that there was a shortage of skilled men all over the place and good men in the Army doing nothing. The ordinary workers on the Home Front, together with the sailors, were the heroes now and right through to June 1944. Not everyone was enamoured of the Beveridge Report. The Employers’ Confederation felt that the war was being fought not to set up a social insurance scheme, but to secure the country’s freedom from Nazi tyranny. Even Churchill wondered out loud just what the bill for the reforms would be, especially because Britain’s foreign reserves had all but disappeared:

The question steals across the mind whether we are not committing our forty-five million people to tasks beyond their compass and laying on them burdens beyond their capacity to bear.

As long as the shared goal was endurance, all contradictions between the romance of island history and the vision of social security could be set aside, but once Britain’s survival was no longer in question, the difficulties in the way of reaching the new Jerusalem were already apparent, not least in determining who should shoulder the fiscal burden. In the war on Want, Beveridge himself pointed out, the British people as a whole would need to re-order its priorities:

The security plan in my report is a plan for securing that no-one in Britain willing to work while he can is without income sufficient to meet at all times the essential needs of himself and his family. The security plan is only a means of redistributing national income so as to put things first, so as to ensure abolition of want before the enjoyment of comfort.

At the start of the Second World war, Coventry had been in the midst of a programme of educational development which aimed to overcome problems of school accommodation. The Authority’s plans included new Elementary and Secondary Schools, a School of Art and some extensions to its Technical College. In addition, the Authority had acquired seventeen building sites on the outskirts of the city. The Director of Education had indicated that he wanted new secondary schools to be erected on these ten-acre sites where they could accommodate five hundred children. These schools were to be similar to the secondary schools provided for scholarship pupils. The Coventry Standard had reported him as saying,

We have got to get away from that false distinction which has really originated from old class distinction and which is now getting out of date… Children of a nation as a whole must be looked at as a whole.

In particular, Coventry had been looking at building large schools which would have parity with grammar schools and would at least narrow, if not end, the inequalities in provision among the Authority’s secondary schools. It was some of these ideas that figured in the postwar plans for comprehensive schools. However, it was not until 1942 that the Labour Party nationally had resolved in favour of the multilateral school, a forerunner of the comprehensive school, and even then, it had not united in favour of the idea, but had keep it in the pubic eye. As a result of the loss of more than eight thousand school places through bomb damage, it had become clear by 1943 that the city would have to undertake a major rebuilding programme. In July 1943 the Board of Education issued a White Paper on Educational Reconstruction. R A Butler, President of the Board, declared in the House of Commons:

I would say to those idealists who want to see more than one form of secondary education in the same school – sometimes called multilateral school – that I hope more than one type of secondary education may from time to time be amalgamated under one roof and that we may judge from experiments what is the best arrangement.

However, such plans were left for Local Authorities to consider. In Coventry, the Director of Education responded to the White Paper in a Report on Educational Reconstruction which was presented to the Education Committee in December 1943. In this report the Authority took stock of its educational problems while responding to the White Paper. Among the main problems were shortage of school accommodation and teaching staff, inadequate buildings, and a number of schools that had not been reorganisation of schools. The Director repeated his call for equality for all in secondary education when he stated:

Any new secondary schools to be erected should be planned with a view to the ultimate reconstruction of secondary education for all and… should be on a parity with other types of secondary schools.

The large sites which the Authority had already purchased for school construction could be used more effectively if different types of secondary school were located in the same building(s), or on the same site. So, the officers suggested to the Education Committee that multilateral schools be established. However, the report had to keep within the tripartite framework for secondary schooling established in the White Paper. Accordingly, it suggested that the total number of schools required in the city would be thirty, consisting of four Grammar schools, eight Technical schools and eighteen modern schools, each of four hundred and fifty pupils. On this basis, no further grammar schools would need to be built, but city’s industrial population would need more technical schools. However, both tripartite and multilateral schools would be created. The Authority had therefore laid plans that set the city on the road to comprehensive education.

In the following year, 1944, the White Paper became law in the Education Act, which is still referred to as the Butler Act, after the Conservative Board of Education Minister. The Act made it the duty of the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) to provide free secondary education for all:

The statutory system of public education shall be organised in three progressive stages to be known as primary education, secondary education and further education; and it shall be the duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as their powers extend, to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community by securing that efficient education throughout those stages shall be available to meet the needs of the population of their area.

Despite the heavy bombing of the city in April 1941, Coventry’s factories continued to increase their output throughout the remainder of the war. In particular, the city’s machine tool firms modified existing production lines and introduced new tools to meet the pressing demands made on them. Between 1939 and 1944 Herbert’s produced over sixty-eight thousand machine tools, while Wickman’s tripled their output. Coventry Gauge and Tool supplied seventy-five per cent of all the gauges used in the manufacture of armaments as well as a number of specialist tools. The Standard Company made a huge list of products for the war effort, gaining its owner, Captain Black, a knighthood.

The war transformed the company, and the new shops for the building of first Bristol and later Mosquito aircraft became the nucleus for rapid union expansion. A number of experienced militants got in at the beginning of the war and recruited rapidly as new labour flooded in. The aircraft jobs were hard to time and, as was generally the case with aircraft assembly, organised on a large gang system, with large work groups being given a price for a whole group of operations and themselves dividing this lump sum among the members of the gang on the basis of skill grading. New wartime jobs were flung at the Standard management at short notice and they had to work out how to adapt to them as they went along. This resulted in very loose prices for jobs and some spectacularly high-flying earnings. The unions were able to use these conditions to push its own nominees into these shops, with the assistance of sympathetic wartime labour officers.   Jack Jones, the TGWU’s District Secretary saw the works, the largest in the city, as the key to union development in Coventry. By the end of the war, Standard was eighty to ninety per cent organised. Black had become sympathetic to working with the unions in order to maximise output and keep control in the works, working closely with Jones to win the war. During the years 1940-45, with the possible exception of the Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft works, Standard was the most strike-free and highest-paying firm in Coventry.

By 1944, when all Coventry’s shadow factories were fully operational, their combined output was in the region of eight hundred engines a month, quadrupling the output target originally set in 1936. Siddeley’s, or Hawker Siddeley, as it became known, had a workforce over ten thousand strong in 1944 and had turned out 550 Lancaster and 150 Stirling bombers. Coventry Climax built twenty-five thousand trailer pumps as well as a large number of generators, Daimler produced a series of Scout cars, Dunlop made tyres, wheels and barrage balloons, anti-gas clothing and underwater frogman suits. At its peak, the city’s population swelled to over a quarter of a million for the first time, as workers continued to move to the city from all parts of Britain. The numbers of workers employed in aircraft production in Britain as a whole had increased to nearly two million in 1944, forty per cent of these female. It became the largest industry in Britain, employing about ten per cent of the total workforce. In the manufacture of the Mosquito alone, besides their construction in the shadow factories, work was subcontracted to Coventry firms as well as to some four hundred other widely scattered firms that often had no prior experience in aircraft production, including several coach-builders and manufacturers of furniture and bicycles. Coordinating these complex arrangements was a major task, yet the Mosquito was one of the most successful aircraft of the war, with nearly seven thousand built and large numbers repaired. There was a similar mix of planning and improvisation throughout the economy, which ensured that despite local breakdowns, bottlenecks and the effects of bombing, Britain achieved the most thoroughly mobilised economy of all the belligerent nations.

016On the whole, the British people proved to be supremely adaptable to the burdens of the war economy. They disliked restrictions on the freedom of movement, rationing, interminable queuing, compulsory extra duties like fire-watching, and petty and irritating regulations, but there was a general perception of equality of sacrifice. Even severe rationing was considered bearable because food allowances were the same for everybody. In parts of Britain that had been depressed in the 1930s, many people were actually better fed under war rationing than they had been in peacetime. A duty some people found more pleasant was welcoming US servicemen. Scattered across the country, with their high pay and access to luxuries long unseen, the Americans provided a touch of colour and glamour to a nation weary of austerity. Yet even they could be viewed as burdensome. British troops resented the differences in pay, and that the Americans were able to compete with them for scarce goods and services. The racial tensions that the segregated US Army brought with it were also bewildering to many British observers. In July 1944, for example, there were race riots in Bristol involving over four hundred US troops, which left one soldier dead and several others injured.

Despite the existence of an electoral truce intended to prevent divisive campaigning, political life did not come to a complete halt. Strikes, although illegal under war regulations, were sometimes large-scale and damaging. The mining and engineering industries accounted for the most working days lost. A number of by-elections were also contested, often by independent candidates or those representing the newly formed Common Wealth Party, who took a generally left-wing stance. As the burdens, shortages and irritations of wartime grew, these independents had an increasing appeal for the electorate. Many Conservatives were annoyed by the loss of seats to the thinly disguised Labour candidates at a time when both parties were members of the coalition government.

This was not entirely unjustified: constituency Labour parties were often willing to defy their own leadership to support these independent candidates. But the Labour Party leadership itself was far from happy, since it appeared that it was losing its grip on its supporters. This divided loyalty on the Left meant that few doubted that Churchill’s Conservatives would win a landslide victory in the next general election. They failed to notice that, despite its divisions, there was a perceptible shift to the Left in public opinion, even if it had not yet translated itself into votes in by-elections.

018Some of this shift was visibly evident in the spectacular and popular public meetings calling for the opening of a second front in Europe. The belief that if Russia went down before the Nazi invaders, all would be lost for Britain, gripped the bomb battered civilian imagination and turned to hero-worship as the Red Army repulsed the fascist foes first from Moscow and then from Stalingrad, by 1943. The people of Coventry sent a gift to the people of Stalingrad of a steel sword when the news of their hard-won victory came through. Support for the Second Front was led by the Left, in particular by the CPGB (the Communist Party), but it stretched right across the political spectrum.

At a meeting in the Stoll Theatre in December 1941, Aneurin Bevan shared the platform with Harry Pollitt in calling for the opening of a second front, the meeting being so well attended that the speeches had to be relayed to nine other full halls. Popular support for the second front movement was encouraged by a deep-rooted distrust that working people had for generals and politicians, who before the Nazi invasion of Russia had been fanatically anti-Soviet. As with the Spanish Civil War, in which George Orwell had fought alongside British workers in the International Brigades, it was a widely held view that it was the considered policy of the ruling classes in Britain to leave the Russian Communists and German Fascists to fight each other to destruction.

014As the Red Army won a series of victories, so the clamour for a second front increased, the logic of forcing Hitler to divide his forces winning increasing support from the Americans. In March 1942, President Roosevelt wrote to Churchill, supporting the calls, but Churchill argued that 1943 was too soon to launch Operation Overlord, the invasion of France. He became distracted by an interim alternative, Operation Torch, in Italy, but Roosevelt thought it nothing more than a sideshow. In Britain, massive rallies, like the one in the picture of Trafalgar Square in July 1942, continued right up to the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944.

The rifts in the country and the government were closed by the heroism of the Normandy landings and campaigns, as well as by the sudden return of terror in the same summer and then on into March 1945, with the impact of the unmanned V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets, killing nine thousand people in the South-East. These raids caused one and a quarter million people to leave London, but they did not break public morale, as Hitler had hoped.

011Churchill’s role as a war leader suddenly became visibly important to the people again, and on 8 May, VE Day, he stood on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, with the King and Queen, as the man who had won the war, not single-handedly of course, but as an iconic leader. Then he went down on the streets, where he was mobbed by his people. This was another symbolic act, showing that victory had been won, not only for his own country, which had stood alone in 1940, but for European Democracy as a whole, which would otherwise have been swept away by tyranny. In the working class districts of London like Stepney (below), and in the bomb damaged cities throughout Britain, bonfires were built in the middle of the streets and kept burning through the night and for much of the next day. There was no shortage of fuel for the timber from bombed houses was never far away from the joyous crowds who danced, cried, sang and rejoiced at their deliverance from war and fascism. In Walsgrave, Coventry, the schoolchildren were given a two-day holiday. The School Log Book entry for 10 May reads; attendance 125, a.m., 149, p.m. Children had overslept or been sick after late nights of Victory celebrations. One resident recalled the street party and the church bells being rung.

007Britain had emerged from the war changed but not destroyed, and George Orwell, who had vividly described the divided Britain of the thirties, had great hopes that if the British people could keep their feet, they could give the example that millions of human beings were waiting for. Orwell’s prophecies linked the future with the past: By the end of another decade, he wrote, it will finally be clear whether England is to survive… as a great nation or not. And if the answer is to be ’Yes’, it is the common people who must make it so. 

A week after VE Day, Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, announced that demobilisation of the armed forces would begin on 18 June, priority being given to building workers and those who could be engaged on reconstruction. Three quarters of a million were to be home by the end of the year and the rest would follow, in orderly fashion, until over four million had returned to civilian life. Just where some of them were to return to was another problem. By the end of the war, Britain had suffered damage or destruction of four million homes as a result of Nazi air attacks. There had been a housing shortage and millions of slums before the war began. Six years of neglect and enemy bombardment combined with a world shortage of building materials to create the worst housing crisis in history. For too many the victorious return home was to derelict tenements, damp basements or dilapidated terraced housing awaiting war damage repair. For even the less fortunate, there was no family home to return to at all, and homecoming meant the rest centre or crowded and embarrassing shared occupancy with relatives or friends. However, for many, their homecoming was a happier one, since it meant returning not only to hearth and home, but to wives and to children they had never seen, or not watched growing. One woman recalled:

I was not sure, of course, just when my husband would arrive home, but he turned up at 11.30 one night and I had to get out of bed to let him in, trying desperately to get the curlers out of my hair. The children did not wake up, however, and I’ll never forget Bill’s face as he stood looking down at his small daughter, whom he was seeing for the first time, and at his son who had grown quite different from the baby he had left behind.

One of the last dramatic events of the Second World War was enacted near the Suffolk shore on 13 May 1945, when Admiral Karl Bruening surrendered the Nazi E boat fleet to his opposite number at Felixstowe. The port had been the headquarters of the British motor torpedo-boat fleet as well as the base for the Short Sutherland flying boats which rescued the crews of stricken ships and ditched aeroplanes. The ending of the Second World War did not come as abruptly as that of the First. Suffolk celebrated V.E. Day and V.J. Day, welcomed heroes back from the front and shared in the great betrayal by returning Labour members in some of her constituencies in the General Election.

The village war memorial in Walsgrave-on-Sowe contains the names of nine young men who gave their lives, including one of Vera Gulliver’s relatives, Leonard Brown, adding to the many who fell in the first war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted November 9, 2014 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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