You, You & You! Introduction

 

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Foreword by Angus Calder (1981)

Angus Calder, 1942 - 2008

Angus Calder, 1942 – 2008

When I first saw Pete Grafton’s manuscript, I was interested, later enthralled – but slightly suspicious.  This boat the Dunera, for instance – the name didn’t seem to be spelt right, and I found it hard to believe the horrible story of conditions on board, and the plundering of alien detainees by regular troops.

Since then, two accounts of the internment of aliens have appeared in print.  They make it clear beyond any doubt at all that the voyage of the Dunera was as scandalous as Pete Grafton’s interlocutor suggested.  One of them shows that the military commander of the ship committed to paper his view that the Nazis who formed a minority on the voyage were fine, upstanding, well disciplined types, whereas the Austrian and German Jews who formed a majority were ‘subversive’ and arrogant.

I will always think that the war waged by Britain, a capitalist and imperialist country, against Nazism was worth supporting.  If Nazism had been left to collapse of its own internal contradictions, the lives of millions in Europe would have been shortened, stultified, mutilated corrupted, even as compared with those they could expect under capitalism.  But victory over Nazism helped the British ruling class confuse the ruled, and even themselves.  The myths of the war which Pete Grafton first encountered in those effable fifties movies suggested that national unity had mysteriously abolished, not class distinctions, but their nastiness.  The uniformly heroic British people had ‘muddled through’ bravely and their triumph against odds showed that prevailing middle class values were good ones.

The myth of 1940 has been especially potent.  It evolved spontaneously, I think.  Churchill’s speeches and Priestley’s broadcasts, uttered at the time, became part of it, gave it headlines and shape, though it could not stabilise until after Hilter’s invasion of Russia and the entry of the USA into the war had made a ‘happy ending’ virtually certain.

The revolt of a few Tory backbenchers against Neville Chamberlain brought to the premiership the man chiefly responsible for Britain’s disastrous defeat in Norway – but according to the myth, Churchill was somehow hoisted to his throne by the Will of the People.  ‘Dunkirk’ was one of the worst military disasters in British history, yet, thanks partly to Priestley’s rhetoric, the word came to symbolise triumph.  The Luftwaffe did not  have planes designed to knock the RAF out of the war, nor to bomb British cities flat.  But technical matters were ignored as the ‘Battle of Britain’ became an epic of chivalry and the negative fact that British morale had not collapsed under bombing was transformed into the positive myth that everyone had acted heroically.

When my book, The People’s War, appeared in 1969, I was both delighted and dismayed by the press coverage it got.  Delighted, because any author likes such wide publicity.  Dismayed, because so many reviewers, especially in the provincial press, either asserted the myth of 1940 as the truth and chided me for not being alive at the time and/or for being too left-wing to accept the truth – or, worse still, praising me for confirming the myth.  I think only one reviewer (not a left-wing one) really spotted that the core of my work, on which I’d expended most conscious effort, was to do with industry in wartime.  Bored women in war jobs, striking miners and absentees, didn’t fit into the Myth.  So they were ignored, just as the internees of the Dunera were so thoroughly forgotten that I’d missed them completely while working towards my book.

So I’d recommend Pete Grafton’s book warmly.  It shows us so many things that have been forgotten because they ‘don’t fit in’.  Neither the heroics of Angels One-Five, nor the delightful comedy of Dad’s Army, represent the dominant strains in British life during the war years.  Boredom, frustration, fear, anger, class, class and class again were at least often to the fore.

We can’t do without myths.  Writing my own book, I was un-consciously forging a left-wing myth, some critics would say a ‘populist’ one.  I think now that it is the task of historians to create myths.  But we need to remake the myth of 1939 – 1945 so that the aliens herded into rat-infested camps, the socialists who, in some confusion, supported the CP-led People’s Convention, the families who trekked from blitzed cities to save their lives, the soldiers who felt trapped in an inhuman military system, cannot be forgotten.  To defeat Nazism, as one poet put it, meant defending the bad against the worse.

Note (2013)  The People’s War has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1969.  It is available in paperback, published by Pimlico, London.

Introduction by Pete Grafton (2013)

“If a mythical version of the war still holds sway in school textbooks and television documentaries, every person who lived through those years knows that those parts of the myth which concern his or her own activities are false.”   –  Angus Calder, The People’s War

Angus was three when the Second World War ended in August, 1945.  I was three weeks old, born between VE and VJ day.  Neither of us lived through those war years, but both of us grew up as young boys  in a Britain where the war – and the victory of the Allies – was continually around us.  The victory was, as far as we knew, down to the British, and if you lived in England, specifically down to the English, and the English character, the English common sense, the innate English intelligence.  Yes, the Americans had the numbers, they had the equipment, but they were a bunch of loud-mouthed incompetent amateurs.  (The USSR didn’t even register in a young  schoolboy’s consciousness.)

The war was tangible, from a young male British perspective, because your fellow class mates, and your friends, all had parents who ‘did something’ in the war.  So and so’s Dad had been in the Navy and was on the first wave of D Day.  Another had been a Spitfire Pilot, or so they claimed.  Another was at El Alamein, and so on.  (No-one however  ever mentioned – in my hearing – the equally important work their Mums did during the war.)  We flicked cigarette cards in the playground – pre-war cigarette cards (their inclusion in packets of cigarettes was banned during the war to save on paper and card), that had pictures of pre-war footballers, Kings and Queens of England  and the images on the cigarette cards didn’t seem that anachronistic.  Meanwhile, our parents, most of them still in their twenties ( who’d worked in munitions at 17,  flown on bombing raids over Germany at 19, been on North Atlantic convoys to Russia at 20, had entered concentration camps as part of a liberating army unit at 21 ) robbed of their teenage years were starting to enjoy Harold Macmillan’s “Never Had It So Good” island of commercial telly, legal betting shops, twin tub washing machines and frozen peas.

And bathed in all this was the comforting, surrounding  balm of a Britain that had emerged from the war intact, still one up on the rest of the world, either economically or morally.  (Neither was true, of course)   Kenneth More in Reach for the Sky,  Richard Todd in The Dambusters easily filled cinema seats, despite competition from American films such as Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett, or Elvis in Jailhouse Rock.

Unlike the Germans, we in Britain never had our face pushed in some dreadful truths.  We never had to deal with (or quietly ignore) certain painful realities.  The French had some painful realities, so painful that there was very little discussion about collaboration.  Of all the occupied European countries, France had one of the worst records of active collaboration (both in the occupied and Vichy zones) with the Nazi regime and Nazi ideology.  This really was a ‘Don’t Mention the War’ scenario, broken only by Marcel Ophul’s  The Sorrow and the Pity, that when first screened in Paris cinemas in 1969 had queues going around the street corners.  So sensitive was this recent history that French television didn’t screen the Sorrow and the Pity until 1981.

As I write, in 2013, the British myths about the Second World War within popular culture are more deeply embedded than they were in 1981 when You, You & You! was published.   There is a far greater – and unhealthy – intolerance now in popular culture (with the attendant  “Help for Heroes” and Red Poppy Day promotions) to questioning those myths.  The fact that the bulk of witnesses from that time still living is negligible is part of the reason. The Boulting Brothers’ 1956 film Private’s Progress or Peter Cook’s 1961 Beyond the Fringe sketch Aftermyth of War didn’t seriously ruffle too many feathers because there would be an amused acknowledgement, for the viewers of the time, of the truths they contained.  The Second World War in British popular culture is now mostly air-brushed and emasculated into the Heritage/Entertainment Business (UK).  In addition, the sense of identity attached to ‘Victory’ results in a pernicious follow-on from these mythologies:  that military aggression is legitimate. The United States, the USSR, the British and the French continued fighting wars, post 1945,  to deny the wish for democracy in their colonies and areas of influence, whilst simultaneously claiming that they had fought the Second World War to preserve freedom and democracy, or workers’ rights (take your pick).  The idea of military aggression as a political strategy still predominates with their governments, and with their main opposition parties.   Thankfully, within post-war Germany and Japan this is not a view largely shared by successive governments, nor by most of their citizens.

Unlike Angus in his 1981 introduction to You, You & You!, I don’t believe it is the role of a historian to create a myth, or a counter myth.  He or she may unwittingly do so, and any intelligent historian will be aware of the constraints on themselves observing things from within their own time, their own class, their own culture, or gender, and their own unconscious need for things as they would like them to have been.  Moreover, the idea of historians creating a myth is a bit fanciful, a bit like George Orwell’s futile idea to have left-wing comics for children, or Freud’s notion in  Future of an Illusion to replace religion with something else.  Like religion, myths are irrational, serving an emotional need about identity, about belonging.

In the meantime, You, You & You! remains an accessible corrective to some of the British Second World War myths, told by a generation – my parents generation – who mostly are no longer with us.  It is for this writer the strangest fact that when the interviews were done in 1975 there was only a period of thirty years from when the Second World War had ended.  It is now thirty-eight years since those interviews were done, sixty-eight years since the end of the Second World War.

“The first myth it seems to me that should be dispelled is that of a fully informed crusading people determined to fight for freedom against oppression.  Some of my generation boast about their sacrifice for their children, like to tell their kids what they done during the war, to save the country from Hitlerism.  I cannae help but laugh, for there was certainly little praise for the volunteer.

The truth is that most people had to be forced by conscription to fight – despite the greatness of the cause, despite the propaganda against Hitler.  The fact is that less than a quarter of a million had volunteered on top of the four and a half million men who were forced under compulsory conscription.  The stories of sacrifice are just not true.  If they did sacrifice, the war forced them to sacrifice.”

       Walter Morrison, army volunteer

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to those whose recollections form the basis of You, You & You!

Arnold Feldman, Anita Finch, Joe Jacobs, Terry & Alice Barrett, John Thorpe, Mrs P. Bolton, Mrs Barton, Doug Hickman, Alice Kriwascek, Harold Lewis, Rene and Ern Cocklin, Edie Miller, George Harris, Bill Berling, Margaret Ransford, Enid Ransford, Frank Grafton, Sylvie Burrows, John and Margaret Miles, Mr and Mrs Boyce, Stan and Marge Guest, John (Jack) Cawkwell, Edie Cawkwell, Mrs O’ Toole,  Mrs Cunningham, Joe Byrne,  Cyril and Alice Jones, George Campbell, Dave Shaw, Douglas Kepper, Jim Roche, Keith Waites, Bill Wall, Irene and Danny McNicol, Douglas Sillars, Evelyn Sillars, Ellaline Sillars, Walter Morrison, Nobby and Alice Robson, Gerd Buchdahl, Iris Wiggins, Phil Sansom.

My thanks to Andy Wiggins for conducting an interview on my behalf, and to Ros Kane for allowing me to use an extract from an interview she did with Douglas Kepper.

The interviews began in December 1975 and ended in December 1976.

In addition, my thanks to Ken Weller, George Williamson, Rick Sumner,  Pete Sutton, Andy Wiggins, John Fletcher and the many others who helped me get in touch with those that I interviewed.

Judy Greenway and Angus Calder read the original manuscript of You, You & You, and I thank them for this and for commenting upon it.

I would also like to thank those that I interviewed who kindly lent me photographs at the time for inclusion in the original 1981 book.  Copyright resides with them, or their estate.  I would like to make clear that those portrayed in the photographs are not necessarily the same as the speaker quoted underneath.

The excellent layout and cover of the 1981 Pluto edition was by Marsha Austin.  I would also like to thank Nina and Mike Kidron of Pluto Press for their attempts at the time to get a larger readership for the original longer book through a deal with Macdonald Futura, a deal that fell through.

This restored and extended on-line version of You, You & You!  was proof read by Liz Willis, whose eagle eye has saved me lots of silly text mistakes.  If any remain, the fault is mine, and my thanks to her for her skills.

The original book was dedicated to the memory of Arnold Feldman.  To his name I also now add Walter Morrison.

Decimal Conversion

When You, You & You! was published in 1981 all readers would still know what a tanner, or 2/6d was.  Money decimalisation had come in only a few years earlier.  Anyone born since  the 1970’s would not now have a clue at either some of the expressions they might encounter – e.g. a ‘thruppeny bit’ or the way pre-decimal money was represented, i.e ‘10/6’.   For this reason these items have been mostly footnoted in the text.

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31 Those That Died

Royal Engineer   I lost mates.  But a lot of it was not when we were going into attacks.  The first six, half dozen was three weeks after D Day.  We dug into this field by the side of the river, by Bénouville Bridge.  They was laying out there sunbathing, which they shouldn’t have done really.  I’d been on guard the night beforehand – I was off.  I was laying in my hole.  I’d dug a hole in the ditch and put a door over the top.

They was laying out there sunbathing and they slung about a dozen 88 shells – which was his favourite gun, that 88 gun.  You could hear it for miles.  You’d hear it go: “Pop-pop” and “Wizzz” and “Crack!” – Big loud “Crack!”  I heard them all hollering and I jumped up and run out.

The driver of my section, he had his leg blown off, back of his head smashed in and he was hollering and shouting.  I run over and covered him up with a blanket.  You couldn’t do nothing else.  There was —- —–, our Corporal.  He never had no shirt on, he was sunbathing and he got up and run to save a little kid that came out a farmhouse.  A lump of shrapnel hit him in the back, and came out his chest.  He was laying there, squealing.  And there was a Sergeant, Sergeant ——-.  He had a big old jack-knife in his belt.  A bit of shrapnel had hit that and pushed it into his back.

We loaded them on the three ton lorry.  We went down the first aid post, which was a big hole dug in the ground with a canvas over it. They took them in there, and they all died in there.

Company Sergeant Major  We was in Abyssinia and a chap came from England.  He was a Sergeant who’d been trained in defusing things.  Knew his job very, very well, as I thought.  We was in a sort of – I wouldn’t say a valley – a big hole, with rocks all round.  There was hundreds of these bloody baboons flying around.  Vicious they were.  We had a load of Italian prisoners, working for us with their big diesel lorries.

One of these lorries had picked up hand-grenades and shells  and rifles, because they were still on the run, the Italians.  This place was the first place where we’d had proper roofs over our heads for ages, because normally we was out in the open all night.  This Sergeant had got this little room all his own.  It was painted white, as they are out there.  I went over and had a word with him about this stuff in the corner.  Anything like that frightened the life out of me, because you only had to touch it, and up it goes.

With this stuff being Italian made, he was experimenting.  I’d left the office and gone over to take the Orderly to his room.  While I was there, there was a terrific explosion.  I jumped in the C.O’s car and went flying over there – it was about 300 yards away – and all I could see was this smoke coming out of this room.  A Sergeant and myself, we dived in there.  Apparently this other Sergeant had tried to defuse an Italian hand-grenade.  He was in a terrible state.  He’d got his head blown off.  A Kenya boy, a white boy, who’d been with him, had taken part of the blast, right in his face.  We grabbed the Sergeant and put him in the car.  He was dying.  It was a beautiful car – it was a Chevrolet, with the column change, when they first came out.  We rushed him down to the hospital, with the old siren going.   I was in the operation theatre when they cut his clothes off.  All his veins were pumping out… – like sprays of blood coming out.  I went outside and I was as sick as a dog.  The Matron came over and said to me “Would you like a bowl of soup?”  And that done it.  I passed out.  The young Kenyan chappie, he was blinded for life.

West Country Girl    I remember the first woman who had her husband killed in the village.  I thought about that a bit.  The ………. Bank was opposite where I worked, and he was a bank clerk there.  She used to come to work with him every morning.  They used to stand in the doorway, hugging and kissing good-bye.  She had two little children when he went.  He was about the first one to get killed in the village, and I thought that was awful, because they had been so in love.  You could see it.

Liverpool Mother   One very, very bad night during the Blitz we hadn’t gone to the shelter.   We had stairs in the kitchen, and there was a cupboard affair under the stairs and in there I used to put a mattress down.  I’d put our two little ones in the cot, with one of the old-fashioned tabletops, that you could lift off the table, over the top.  We didn’t have a bathroom.  I had our John sitting on the table, washing him down, and a bomb came down and all the windows came in on top of him.  I consoled him, and there was a hammering at the door.  I took him with me, with the towel thrown over him, and it was the chap opposite with a boy over his shoulder.   He’d been caught in the blast and brought him in.  I didn’t think anything.  We had a parlour and a kitchen.  He bought him into the parlour and when he put the boy down on the settee – he’s got no head.  Our John seen that and he went into a fit.  He was fairly shaken by that.

Army Driver  In Durban, South Africa, our troopship was parked next door to the battle-cruiser Repulse.  When we got up to Natal Street there was a big Naafi there, for all ranks, and we always used to be on leave with the sailors, and had a bloody good time with them.

On our way across the Indian Ocean it was just us and the Repulse, steaming along for a  few days.  We transferred three matelots from our ship onto the Repulse.  Both ships were stationary in the Indian Ocean.  The only worry was from surface ships, as U Boats didn’t have the range for that area.  Then we went our separate ways, the Repulse wishing us God speed, over the tannoy.

The balloon went up with the Japs on 7th December, 1941, with Pearl Harbour.  We were camped in Iraq when we heard that the Repulse had been sunk with all hands. (1)    And we’d been on leave with all those blokes.   You knew them as Jock or Charlie or Bill, that sort of thing, and when you got on your boat you shook hands – “Best of luck”.   You didn’t know the poor sods had got about a month to live.  That was nothing to the Powers That Be, but it was pretty rough to you, and the poor sods that copped it.  But you didn’t dwell on it.

RAF Ground Gunner   When the V2s were dropping I was still in the RAF Regiment.  We are pulled up at a place just the other side of Romford. (2)    It was a little aerodrome.  There was us and another squadron. we’d gone up there to get the guns all made up again, and to recoup.  One night there was a camp dance and I went to it.  I was dancing with this little Waaf out of the office, a little girl with glasses.   We had the dance on the Sunday.

On Tuesday, four o’ clock in the afternoon we had Bofors guns, and I was No.2.  We was in the hangar and the other squadron was in the other hangar.  Four o’clock it was my turn to do No.4 – that was the bloke who loaded the shells in.  I’d jumped onto the gun and I was just reaching down for a clip of shells and all of a sudden it was bedlam.

I was flat on my back and I was looking up, and there was all the corrugated sheeting falling down off the hangar.  There was blokes lying all over the place, and smoke everywhere.  We all rushed out to the aerodrome.  The other hangar was flat.  The rocket had gone straight into it.  The Squadron Leader, an old boy with glasses, he’s standing there with his arm up, twisted back – back round the back of his neck, and he’s crying “Oh my boys, oh my boys.”

We all rushed into this hangar.  Well, I rushed in and stopped, ‘cos the bloke who was my opposite number to me was sitting on the seat, and all he had was his chest down.  His head and shoulders is gone, and there was all steam coming out.  And there was a bloke’s leg sticking out from underneath the gun.  I got hold of the feet and I was pulling them, but that’s all I was pulling – the feet.  I started vomiting.  I run out, and as I run out I saw a Waaf lying on the floor.  Somebody was just putting a sheet over her, and it was this Waaf I’d been dancing with.  She was face down on the floor but her feet were pointing skywards.

They sent the Waafs on the switchboard home and me and a Corporal was put on the switchboard.  There was a Sergeant in ——– Hospital, he was dying and his wife kept phoning up.  Every time she phoned it was muggins who was taking the call.  I didn’t know what to say.  I kept saying to her “As far as I know you husband is in ——– Hospital, and we’re waiting for reports.”

This went on for about an hour, and then I went for a cup of tea, and this Corporal took over.  He was as thick as a bloody wall.  She came on, and he’d just heard that he’d died.  As she came on he said “Sergeant So and So?  Oh yes, it’s just come through.  He’s dead.”   Just like that.  I thought: you bastard.  I went back and said “What do you want to say that for?”  I could have smashed him.  They lost half the squadron.  A lot of our blokes went into ——– Hospital with shock.  It’s a wonder I didn’t go myself, the way I rushed into that hanger and stopped.  I can still see it now.  That bloke sitting there.

1. Three days after Pearl Harbour HMS Repulse, along with HMS Prince of Wales were torpedoed and bombed by Japanese aeroplanes on 10 October, 1941  and sunk off Kuanton on the Malayan coast.  835 sailors died.

2.  Romford, Essex.

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30 Looking Back

If I knew when the war broke out what I know today…

London Woman  The only thing I’m annoyed with Hitler for was he took seven years of my life (although I enjoyed my years on the buses) at a time when I ought to have been doing all the daft things that people are doing now.  We lost our youth.  I want those seven years back again.  When you think we couldn’t go and buy any clothing without a coupon… – I married my old man for his clothing coupons, and I found he’d given them away!  He probably flogged them.

Winscombe, Somerset Girl   It was miserable for a teenage girl growing up.  If I had any money I didn’t have any coupons.  We didn’t get much in the way of clothes.  When my sister was married we got some lace curtains, dyed them and made them up as a honeymoon nightie.  That’s why I love to buy my daughter clothes now, because at her age – God, I had nothing.  I do feel we lost out on our teenage years.

2nd Winscombe, Somerset Girl, ATS    I didn’t have any teens, like they do today.  I didn’t have any clothes or parties.

Her Husband  And yet you gained something I think.

2nd Winscombe, Somerset Girl   No – you don’t know what it’s like not to have nice clothes.  Always that horrid khaki uniform.

Her Husband, ex-RAF Flight Engineer   I happened to be wearing a uniform that I liked and was very proud of.  It’s perhaps wrong to say it, but I enjoyed my war.

2nd Winscombe, Somerset Girl   I enjoyed the comradeship.

Her Husband   I was doing what I wanted to do.  Youngsters are supposed to be more mature today, aren’t they?  But some of them – I couldn’t see them flying over Germany at 20, sitting in a turret.  Our gunner was 18.

Paratrooper   I’ve often said to the boy “You’re lucky.  When I was your age I had to go in the forces.  I had to go.  From 19 to 24.  Them years was taken away from me.  I couldn’t please myself what I done.  If I went and had a tooth out without telling anybody I was put on a charge, all that silly nonsense.

Army Driver, North African Campaign   I resented that some bloody stupid politicians bring wars about knowing bloody well they’re too old to go themselves.  I thought it was an imposition that I should be yanked out of civvy street and put into something I didn’t want to be part of, but I also had the sense to realise that I couldn’t beat the army.  So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And I made the best of it.  But nothing on earth would make me like it.  Nothing.

People were more together then

Liverpool Woman  When I look back at that period they were happy times.  I can honestly say I enjoyed them years better than I do now.   Everybody was more friendly with each other.  The way it is now, everyone says “Oh bugger you” and draw the curtains.  I’m the same.  I don’t talk to a soul in the street.  It’s not right to live like that is it?  Nobody’s interested in your troubles now.  I’ve been in this street nearly three years and I only know the old woman next door.  I only know her because I speak to her if I see her at the door, and I know Sheila across the road only because her little feller knocks here for the time every night.  But the others, I don’t even know their name.

Jewish Army Private    As a result of the war I learnt more about people, in association with them, in this shifting, moving world, which was so different from the area where you lived all your life, the factory in which you worked all your life.   This enormous opportunity to meet people from all parts of the country – the nation – of seeing people in some terrible circumstances.  Even my detention for striking a superior officer, which was only four months, with remission and so on,  an experience that was horrific in many respects, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, because I learned more about people, not only how petty they can be, but how human they can be as well.

It was only the war that cured the depression

Royal Engineer  Being involved in a war must be the worst time in anybody’s life.  But how can you say?  –  If there hadn’t been a war, there might have been an even bigger depression.  I could have been worse off, because you must admit, it was only the war that cured the depression.

Army Driver, North African Campaign, Londoner     Life has been better since the war.  Say, you’ve got a television – you expect it.  The two of us have worked our guts out to get a little car.  In the old days, if somebody had a car, he’s got to be well heeled, before the war.

There’s been a social  revolution.  The so-called better class can’t get away with it – with walking all over you.  It may not have been a completely good thing in as much as the ignorant bloody people like to rule the roost, and I’d hate to see this country run by this socialist mentality.  Give ’em a bit of power, and look out!  At the same time though, the people I meet up the West End – when I’m delivering their laundry – Lady this and that, if they’d have their way mate, they’d have you back to your bloody cap and apron.  “Stand to attention when I’m talking to you.”  They don’t like the evening up of the other class.

I wouldn’t vote Labour if they were the only party

During the war they were obliged by law to keep your job open.  When I came out I went back into the same job I’d done – driving for the same laundry firm.  But if I’d have known what I know now, I wouldn’t have gone back into it.  It’s got no future.

Our boss says there’s a rise in the pipeline, but there’s no point in having a rise if you have to give it back to pig Healey. (1)    He said “There are some people about who say What’s in it for me?”  Well who the bloody hell doesn’t say “What’s in it for me?”  That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  He quotes that Germany are doing alright.  Japan are doing alright.  They are doing alright, but they don’t tax their people like they tax us.  We’ve got to have an incentive to go to work, get our coats off and get stuck in.  I wouldn’t vote Labour if they were the only party.

Liverpool Mother   I was only saying the other night, we’re going back to the old recipes we used to have to use.  It’s not the shortage of the food now, it’s the money that’s short.  You’re going back to making those meals, and making things up.  I’ve been to a jumble sale and I got a big white tablecloth.  They’re making fun of me.  They’re saying “Me Mother’s going funny in her old age!”  Me daughter said “Mother, you’re terrible, you’re buying all the rubbish that’s going.”  You see this table cloth?  If I put a hem on it, and wash it in Daz, it will come out snow white.  You go and try and buy a tablecloth for five pence!  During the war you’d see little boys running around in jeans made from blackout material, or little dresses with red or blue embroidery round the bottom of it.  They made do.  We’re going back to that.  We couldn’t get the material.  Now we can’t get the money.

In a siege economy working people didn’t grumble a great deal

Leeds Tailor   As far as the general body of working people were concerned, they began to be better off, as soon as rationing came in.  They felt it was fair, that they weren’t being discriminated against.  They felt that what they were getting was barely enough, whereas before they didn’t even have barely enough.  In a siege economy people didn’t grumble a great deal.  They felt that what there is, we’re getting our share.  In fact, even that wasn’t always true.  Sometimes they got more.  My wife had a job with the wartime Social Survey. Her job was to travel around the north of England, finding particular areas where there was dissatisfaction – particularly in key engineering areas like Darlington.  Where there was dissatisfaction the Government made sure that the shops in that area were better stocked with the goods that were in short supply.  They’d send in a bit more cloth, or a few new carpets.

I often think of the war period, particularly now, when the alternative to the Government’s present policy is a siege economy. (2)

Ted Heath is the biggest traitor that England ever reared

Somerset Farmer   If I knew when the war broke out what I know today I wouldn’t have worked a quarter so hard as what I did.  My advice to my child is, if there’s ever another war, she’s not to participate in it, because we didn’t fight two world wars for Ted Heath to give us back to Germany.  We did not fight a struggle and go without, and work all hours that God sent for Ted Heath to give us to the Germans, because that’s what he’s done.  I feel very sick about it.  I’ve had to live through two world wars.  I can remember the armistice of the First World War.  I wasn’t very old but I can remember the celebrations very plain.  In my opinion Ted Heath is the biggest traitor that England ever reared.  We fought two world wars to be free, and now we’re under the dictatorship of Germany, through this European Common Market. (3)

London Woman, ex-clippie    It might have been good for us if Hitler had won the war – Germany have done much better than us.  They don’t take all their income tax away, like they do mine!

This country needs not necessarily Hitler, but it needs a man like him

Ford’s Shop Steward, ex-paratrooper   It’s common knowledge isn’t it that at the end of the war we came out the worst end of it.  From about five years after the war, up until about five years ago, Germany was way ahead of us.  Economically.  In this country we’re dependent all the time on people in the Houses of Parliament.  You’ve either got a Labour Government or you’ve got a Tory Government.  They’re both as bad as each other.  What we need now is a complete change of the system, based on the welfare of the workers of the country.  Not as it is at the moment.  I think the country needs not necessarily Hitler, but it needs a man like him.

Liverpool Woman   I don’t think there was much unemployment after the war.  I don’t remember my brothers being out of  a job.  If you notice the way it is now, regards unemployment – it happened in the 1930s, building up to the war, and the war created work.  There was plenty of work for everyone.  You wonder, is it going to build up to the same thing?  Because something’s got to break somewhere. (4)

Essex Farmworker   In those days I used to get a week’s holiday.  I get three weeks now.  We don’t want no more wars.  I don’t want that lot again.  I had enough of that.  The RAF moved out just after the war.  There’s nothing there now.

It was all horses on the farm then, apart from one tractor.  A Fordson.  It’s all tractors now.  Good job too, that’s what I say.  A tractor can’t feel.  Those poor old horses could.  Hard work that was for them.  I went straight from school onto the farm.  Long time, ‘ent it?  If he sacked me he couldn’t turn me out of the house, even though it is tied.  (5)    I’ll get a pension when I retire.

If there’s another war and the Russians start on us, we don’t stand a chance.  They’ve got different weapons now.  They won’t use the atom bomb.  The Russians got different tanks, don’t ‘um?  Self-loading guns.  Different tanks altogether.  It was on the television the other night.  I don’t reckon they’ll use that atom bomb.  Not in my lifetime.  There won’t be no more war again.  I hope not anyways.

I don’t think we’ll need air raid shelters in the next war

Teesside Man  People don’t want to fight in this country now.  During the war, a man who didn’t want to fight, he didn’t know the answer.  He didn’t know the way out.  They called you up, and away you went.   Basically, people don’t want to fight.  The biggest blow made for that was Cassius Clay, when they took his world championship.  He was world champion boxer and they conscripted him for Vietnam and he said  “No.  I have no quarrel with these people.  Those are my brothers.”  He got that publicity then.  He said “I’m no coward.  I’ll fight, but I’m not going to fight my brothers.”  Nobody could question his integrity.  He wasn’t a coward. (6)

I’ve a son – 21 – and he’d never fight.  They’d never conscript him.  If he was going to fight, he’d fight against it.  There’s nobody he wants to kill.  If it came to the worst he’d be over the hills and far away.

Liverpool Woman   It had its good points the war.  Looking back on it you can laff, but all the same, I don’t think I’d like my family now, to go through what we went through.  I wouldn’t like to think that my sons went in the army.  If I thought there was going to be another war like there was last time, I’d sooner take them to Ireland, or somewhere away from it.  I had no one to think of in the war.  But when you’ve got children, you couldn’t go to work, wondering if they’ll be alright.  When you’re young and single you don’t have a worry.  I don’t think we’ll need air raid shelter in the next war.  It’ll only need a couple of atom bombs.

Chief Petty Officer, Retired   The bloody slaughter and torture that went on, and is still going on in all parts of the world – it’s got to stop.  They thought the 1914 – 1918 war was the war to end all wars, like the last was.  They didn’t know it’s all got to go on forever more until people turn round and say “Here are, here’s a bloody sword each – go and fight out in that field, and whoever wins, let us know.  That will do us.”  I honestly believe people will get together.  I think this has to come.

Ex-POW   Looking back on it I feel that there’s no hope at all, frankly, for civilisation.  Politics really is the end of everything, to me, because you’re such slaves.  There’s no hope for the future at all.  It really does distress me.  I would love to think that someone, somewhere, learnt some sense out of the last war, and individually a lot of people have.  But people seem powerless.  Perhaps I’m too cynical.  We haven’t had an atom war yet.

When the old man had finished I said “You’ve left out all the important freedoms.”  “What freedoms do you mean?”  “Have you ever clocked on?”

Leeds Man   Once the war in Europe was over and there was no chance of seeing active service I was only too eager to get out.  And as I couldn’t get out I took the opportunity of doing a bit of studying and managed to get to Welbeck College and to Cambridge University  for a couple of months.  It was helpful for giving me a contempt for the kind of education that bears no relation to reality.

I listened to one old geyser, a Professor Benjamin, who was lecturing to us one day about the Atlantic Charter – the four freedoms (7)    This was an officers’ course in Cambridge, and I was the only non-commissioned officer there, and that made me a bit bloody-minded and mischievous.

When the old man had finished I said “You’ve left out all the important freedoms.”  “What freedoms do you mean?”  “Have you ever clocked on?”  “Pray elucidate, sir.”  It sounded as if it came out of a book.  “Clocked on – punched a card.”  “What do you mean?  Punched a card?”

“Let me tell you.  In order to earn your living, to eat, and to pay your rent, you’ve got to take a card and drop it in a slot and press a lever that puts a time on it, in the morning.  And before you leave for lunch, you’ve got to do it again.  And if you don’t do it, you’ll lose wages.  And when you come back from lunch you have to do the same again.  And if you don’t,  you lose half an hour’s wages.  And at night time if you don’t do it, you may lose half a day’s wages.  You’ve got to punch a card four times a day, five and half days a week, all the year round.  That’s what I call economic freedom – you’re a slave to the clock, and yet you never mentioned the clock.”   The poor old man didn’t know anything about economic freedom – he’d always enjoyed it.

“Oh”, he says “we’ll deal with that later on.”  That was round about 1945.  It’s now 1976. We’re still dealing with it.

If Churchill instead of his Blood, Sweat and Tears thing had said “Any man or woman in the forces who would like to give it all up and go home, can” – he wouldnae have got the microphone out of his mouth before he’d been trampled to death in the rush

Ex- Fusilier   When they were changing the army paybooks I was the only person who had “Duration of the War” on my paybook.  I had to step forward, and when I stepped forward the whole bloody company was standing behind me.  I was the only one with “Duration of the War” – meaning I was a volunteer.  All my mates are standing behind me and everyone’s going “You bloody mug you!”    That was the kind of thing that showed me nobody wanted to volunteer.  It’s as blunt as that.  Why did the saying “You, you and you!” come up?  Because Britain’s the greatest propaganda merchants in the world.  I still think they are.  They attack themselves and laugh at themselves, but it’s done in a way as a cover up, to cover our faults.  The reason they went “You, you and you!” was because they knew there were no volunteers around.

If this country was a nation of sacrificers it was because they were forced to do something that they obviously didnae want to do, and they done it with a great deal of reluctance, and I would say, without going any further, that’s the myth chopped.  I don’t think there’s any answer to that.  The answer could be, and I’ve heard it said, that people could have kicked against it, despite the fact they were forced – that it was open for them to object.  But they didn’t do it.  They were too old in the head!  It just doesnae work.

People are afraid when  a guy says to you “Mr Morrison, we’ve got a war here, and you’re a person we want to fight for us – will you please come and fight for us?  If you don’t come, you’ll get a fine, or you’ll be put in prison.  You’ll maybe get ten years.  We might even shoot you.”   I think it’s easier without the Emergency Powers, like they had during the war, to protest, but in this country, despite all the talk, we don’t protest easy.  We allow a £10 fine to deter us.  But with a ten years prison sentence, or a prison sentence that’s indefinite, like some of the COs got – a year in prison, ready to come out, give them another year – that kind of thing, and pile it on, I would suggest that’s more of a deterrent than the fear of possibly dying.  It was the threat that they knew, rather than the one they didn’t.  Take it from me,  if Churchill instead of his Blood, Sweat and Tears thing had said “Any man or woman in the forces who would like to give it all up and go home, can” – he wouldnae have got the microphone out his mouth before he’d been trampled to death in the rush.  That’s a fact.

I was listening to the Armistice Service on the television, particularly the big ceremony in the Albert Hall – the Queen there and all the rest of them, marching about with their medals on.

I appreciate the feelings in some of their hearts.  Maybe a longing to relive their lives.  Maybe a lot of them in the parade, particularly the old-timers, would be half-wishing the war never finished, for the comradeship.  When ever I watch the dropping of the poppies on the young soldiers below I often imagine myself and my mates in that position.  I think the bloody last thing you’d be thinking about would be all they poor buggers killed in the war.  Wouldn’t be thinking about them.  Probably be singing different words to the songs they were singing.

But I couldn’t help feeling a wee bit sad about a lot of mates and people that had been killed.  It seemed like a sort of a bloodbath with the poppies floating down on top of them, with the poppies in their hair, and all over their clothes, like blood dripping from them.  The real ironic ending is – they’re going to all get up and go out, brushing it all off themselves, and all the Churchies and Dukes, on their way out, march the poppies under their feet, into the ground.

1.     Dennis Healey, Labour Government Chancellor of the Exchequer when this interview took place in October, 1976.

2.   During 1976, the Pound started to weaken against the dollar, going under two dollars for the first time ever.  Harold Wilson the Prime Minister resigned, citing he had been Prime Minister long enough.  After a three way ballot amongst Labour MPs between Dennis Healey, Michael Foot and James Callaghan,  Callaghan became the new Labour Leader and Prime Minister.  With the unrelated resignation of Labour MP John Stonehouse,  the Labour Government then became a minority of one.  Meanwhile Dennis Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, vowed  “even more vigorous action to halt inflation.”  The Pound continued to slide, and the Labour Government in June secured loans from 10 nations to support sterling.  But this was not enough and in September the headlines read “Britain goes cap in hand to the IMF.”  The Government applied to borrow £2.3 billion to further prop up the Pound.

3.    Conservative Prime Minister who successfully negotiated Britain’s entry into the European Union.  The entry took effect in October, 1972, three years before this interview.

4.     In August, 1976 the jobless numbers reached 1.5 million – the highest figure since the end of the war.  Attempts by the Labour Government at controlling wages met with strikes in the public sector (on November 17,  40,000 public sector workers came out on strike) and in the partly nationalised sector (strikes at British Leyland plants, for instance).

5.   Tied housing still exists in farming, as in other sectors.  In general, there are now more rights for tenants in such housing than there were in the post-war years.  The Rent (Agricultural) Act, 1976, England and Wales, for instance, gave agricultural workers more housing security.

6.   “In 1967, three years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. Military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.  He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title. He did not fight again for nearly four years—losing a time of peak performance in an athlete’s career.   Ali’s Appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court,  where in 1971 his conviction was overturned.  Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the  larger counter-culture generation.”  – Wikipedia.

7.     The Atlantic Charter was a statement of war and post-war aims, drafted by the United States and Britain.  It was issued in August 1941, and was subsequently signed up to by the other war-time allies, including the USSR.  There were  eight – not four – principal points, including the right to self-determination.

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29 Let’s Face It – Who Cared About the Jews?

I must admit that when I realised the full extent of the horror of what the Nazis were doing I was really shaken

Somerset Teenage Girl   I was at the Odeon in Weston and they had pictures of the extermination camps on the news.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  You’d heard, but you couldn’t believe that people… Until you saw… It was the most terrible thing.

Somerset Teenage Boy   Towards the end of the war they had a cinema at South Petherton, in the Town Hall.  I went there and they showed a film.  And then they showed a newsreel of the concentration camps.  And that really brought it out, ‘cos I knew, as I sat there, that what was happening on the screen, was happening at that very minute.  If you look at it now, it’s a piece of history, but to be sat there and realise that is actually happening… They brought in “X” films that the children couldn’t see, but they couldn’t compare with those newsreels.  They were terrifying.  And now, when they have films with it on, I won’t watch them.

Glasgow Teenage Girl   When we were horror-struck at what was going on – because we saw it on our screens, or heard about it through the wireless – I remember it being said “Yes, but the Germans believe that there are as many concentration camps in Britain as there are in Germany.”   At the time I wondered why it was said.

It was when we first saw the photos of the concentration camps that I realised, and I think most people realised, that they were fighting for something, although maybe we didn’t know it.   As far as I was concerned I could have been fighting for the Russians, for the Germans, for the British, or whoever it was.  It was just nonsense.  But that identified it, at least, and although no-one was aware of that at the beginning of the war, I think possibly it salved our consciences for continuing to fight instead of saying “No, I’m not going to fight.”

Anarchist     I must admit that when I realised the full extent of the horror of what the Nazis were doing I was really shaken.  It was very easy if you were against the war to believe that everything was propaganda.  In the First World War a lot of propaganda had been invented – stories of Germans walking through Belgium with babies on their bayonets, all this sort of thing.  After, it had been exposed for what it was – lies.  So we were ready to be suspicious about anything.

I think it was bloody useful for the British that at the end of the war  the Germans actually showed themselves to be the absolute bastards they were – to justify the whole thing, and it turned a lot of people who had been sympathetic towards them, against them.  I’m sure many people couldn’t help but respect these people who were wiping out the whole of bloody Europe, and nearly knocked out Russia.  The ordinary guy, I’m sure, had a lot of respect for the Germans, for the way in which they pulled themselves up from the depths of depression in the ’20s and ’30s, and had turned themselves into this magnificent fighting nation.  The murderous nature of the Nazi regime was not revealed.  Let’s face it – who cared about the Jews?

Where were they in Germany?  They were nothing.  They had used money as their country, and money was nothing

RAF Bomb Aimer   They had nothing to connect to and they walked like bloody sheep.  I don’t think any nation in the world would have done it like they did it.  They kidded themselves on, from when they went into these railway carriages.  They knew bloody fine where they were going.  They say they didn’t, but they knew bloody fine.  Where were they in Germany?  They had used money as their country, and money was nothing.

German Jew   Germany was my home.  It will always remain so, but so is England.  I feel lovely when I go back to Germany.  I’ve been back two or three times since, and I think it’s absolutely lovely because it’s childhood to me.  And the Germans.  And the language.  You don’t think I speak English as well I speak German?  If I talk philosophy I can only do that in English, but about food – other things – it’s much nicer in German.  The English language at best fits me like a glove, but the German language is like my skin.

Going back to Germany now, and talking to Germans, it’s like coming back to a strange tribe, funnily enough.  A curious mixture of strangeness and homeliness.  In one respect they’re like my old school friends.  There’s a Professor in Mainz (the university was re-opened after the war, Napoleon closed it down) who is very much like one of my school friends in Germany who stuck to me loyally; was a member of the Centre Party – the Catholic party – who graduated with me from school and became a lawyer; was called up; fought on the Russian front.  He had to joint the Nazi Party, even to become a lawyer, but I can assure you he never lost his political sentiments.  After the war he became what you might call a Secretary of the Civil Service.  They call them Ministerialdirigent.    This was in Rhine Westphalia, in Mainz.  When my wife and I went to Mainz in 1955 he was there.  He was subsequently promoted to a larger one up in Cologne.

Don’t I owe loyalties, one of them asked

It was lovely to come back in 1955.  He got together all those school friends still left, still living there, who’d been in the last few years in school with me.  Some of them asked how I could bear to live abroad.  They couldn’t understand how I could be a foreigner in a foreign country.  Don’t I owe loyalties, one of them asked me.  I asked him whether I could be expected to owe loyalties to gas chambers, which of course produced terrific confusion and embarrassment.  I said I didn’t wish to embarrass my host, but if I was asked a silly question, it deserves a silly answer.  But it was all very amicable, never the less.  It was as if nothing seemed to have happened.  Nothing at all.  I must say that my own last form retained its complement of five or six chaps who remained loyal and didn’t become Nazis until the end, until they graduated.

If you keep a sense of humour you are a moral coward.   If you don’t, you’re an hysteric

When the Jews were being persecuted in German, Gentile friends would say to us “Yes, but you’re not like other Jews”, and that has perpetuated itself even after the war.  I lost… – They came for my aunt.  They rounded up all the Jews in  Wesphalia, where she was living.  She committed suicide.  She took tablets.  Another aunt also took tablets.  I lost two.  I lost none in the concentration camps because fortunately my relatives were either already dead or had gone abroad.

There was not a Jew left in Mainz after the war.  They were all rounded up.  Nobody was left.  They all went to Lublin and from there to Auschwitz.  How do you keep a sense of humour about that?  I don’t know.  If you keep a sense of humour you are a moral coward. If you don’t you’re an hysteric.  There’s not much you can do really.  There’s no way you can react to it rationally because it wasn’t a rational action.  The Chairman of my philosophy department in Texas, where I’ve often gone to teach, he said “I cannot understand you.  How can you sit there and tell me that you went back to Germany.  You’ve got no backbone.  You’ve got no guts.  You’re despicable.”  I said “It’s easy for you to talk like that.  Of course I could take the same line, it’s so easy.  it’s equally easy for me to say one must be understanding.  That’s equally silly.”

The standards that apply to individuals do not apply to nations, or peoples, or movements.  it’s not like that.  One can’t talk about forgiveness.  One can’t talk about understanding.  One can’t talk about recriminations.  It doesn’t get you anywhere.  “How many of these people,” I said, “even among my own friends were victims of circumstances? – Who really couldn’t help themselves. Look at my friend Walter Schmidt, the Chief of the Civil Service.  What could he do?”    I said “If there are people here who are that much holier, let them throw the first stone, before you talk.”

In a kind of a way I had a triumphant return to Mainz a couple of years ago.  I’m a moderate Kant scholar and they now have tri-annual, quadro-annual international congresses on Kant.  The Fourth International Congress took place in Mainz.  I had place of honour with one of my papers – as a celebrated Cambridge scholar – not as a German.  They didn’t know I was German, let alone that I was born in Mainz, or that my school was situated directly opposite the building where the Congress took place.  Nobody asked me.  nobody was interested.  I didn’t make an issue of it.

Now I must tell you – the most despicable thing is how people will fawn upon you and say “Oh, if every Jew had been like you.”

Austrian Jew  I’ve been back twice.  Once to see my cousin in 1963, and once in 1968  I took one of my sons to show him where his parents came from.  We went all over Vienna and I pointed out to him where we had lived, where my husband had studied, where I had studied.  I took him to the university.  I showed him where Freud had lived.  I took him on a conducted tour, as it were.  After leaving Vienna we went to Prague.  We left on the evening before the midnight when the Soviets marched into Prague.  History repeating itself.

My first visit was in 1963, after my husband had died.  I wouldn’t go before that.  I didn’t wish to go.   It was a terribly emotional experience.  I met my cousin and went with her to Baden and was told a certain lady who had lived in the same house would very much like to meet me.  I said “No. No.”  I went to look at my old school, but it was summer and the school was closed.  I didn’t wish to meet anyone I had known.  I just went to a chemist’s shop who had Jewish owners.  They had returned from emigration, and I talked to them.  The owner had been my pupil as a little boy.  I visited another Jewish couple who had returned.

On this trip I also went to Vienna and I went to the synagogue in Vienna.  I’m not religious, I’m rather an atheist.  Nominally I’m Jewish.  My whole religious feeling is nostalgia.  It’s purely nostalgia.  I went to the synagogue to see what it was like now.  I felt terribly sad, because it was so close to the place where I had to queue up at the Gestapo headquarters.  It had been destroyed by air raids.  It’s on the embankment of the River Danube and there’s a large plaque: “This is the site of the Gestapo Headquarters and the plaque has been erected by the City of Vienna in memory of its victims.”  It was ghastly.  So ironical, and so hypocritical.

Now I must tell you – the most despicable thing is how people will fawn upon you and say “Oh, if every Jew had been like you.”  The Austrians have a very servile form of politeness.  They’re well known for that.  “Küss die Hand” – kiss your hand – “Gnädige Frau” – gracious lady, is the form of address.  And they will say “If everyone had been like you” or “We didn’t know what was going on.  We had no idea.  We never wanted that to happen.”  And that is so horrible!  Absolutely!  Because you know it’s a sham.  I shall never live there.  Never!  No.  Don’t remind me.  I have a lot of friends in London who say “No.”  They don’t want to see Vienna again.

Winscombe, Somerset Teenage Girl   I don’t think you got hatred of Germans as bad as it was in the First World War, but people still disliked them very much.  Just after the war the Quakers were having a meeting in the village – I think some sort of pro-German meeting, and we were all up in arms about this, and some airman came from Locking to barrack it. (1)

This bloke comes in – “Bloody hell.  Fancy discussing it with them, after all they’ve bloody well done.”

English Jew, RAF electrician   Being the camp electrician I had my own little workshop.  This was back in England, before I was demobbed.  We had German prisoners of war in the camp.  They used to come into my workshop.  I used to put the kettle on and we had an electric fire, which I made myself.  We’d have a good old brew-up and a talk.  We used to have political discussions all bleeding day.  I had a lot of Trotskyist German literature, such as Germany: What Next?, which I used to give to them.  They used to read it and we’d discuss it.

This bloke comes in – “Bloody hell.  Fancy discussing it with them, after all they’ve bloody well done.”  By this time one of the Germans could speak a bit of English.  I said “If you want to discuss it, why don’t you discuss it with them.”  “Got nothing to discuss with them, after all they’re responsible for.”  The German said “I want to ask you a question.  Suppose you lived in Germany, if you didn’t join the National Socialists you were suspect immediately.  If your wife and kids were in jeopardy, would you have joined?”  “No.  No I wouldn’t.”  “So you would have sooner gone to a concentration camp, would you?”  “Surely if there were enough of you, he wouldn’t have been able to do it.”  “Not enough of us could do it.  We weren’t armed.  They were.  You say we are responsible for Hitler, but you live in a so-called democracy and you elected a group of politicians who helped Hitler into power.  Therefore, you’re just as responsible as we are.”  “Don’t give us that.”  “Did you know what they were doing?  Did you know they were sending arms to Germany?  Do you know about the Siemens industry?  Things like that?”  By the time he was finished he didn’t know whether he was coming or going.

It takes a bit of guts and organisation for thousands of people to march up and say “Look – Stop,  Mr Hitler.”

Ex-POW  Before I went into those camps I was completely naive, and I was bloody scared, but I still didn’t believe that there were such things as concentration camps.  After I had been in these camps, which were not concentration camps of course, I saw slowly, here and there, and realised that there was one hell of a lot of evil in Germany, and that I was very lucky to be where I was.  When I realised that the stories of the concentration camps were true and not just German propaganda, I thought:  God Almighty.  What shook me was that I couldn’t believe that any unit of people, en masse, could be infernally bloody evil, like the Japanese.

On the other hand I got on well with Germans.  I swotted German and I got to know them and I realised the average German soldier, and the average civilian were just as bloody helpless, or as human, as we are.

To give an example – some friends of mine were around the other night with a very true blue couple.  These people are very anti-German still.  You know – “Battle of Britain, and our gallant boys” – which I don’t deny.  Don’t get me wrong.  They say “It’s no good you saying half of them didn’t know.”  Alright.  There’s a point in that.  But this other person said “Wait a minute, before you go any further – You know all these immigrants in Britain – Pakistanis.”  “Oh God, yes.”  “Well, what do you think about it?”  What they thought about it is much the same as what I think about it, without being personal to the individual.  It’s not colour at all, it’s pressure of population, but we won’t go into that.

This chap and this girl said “Now what precisely have you or are you doing about it?”  And they sort of looked.  “Yes” he said, ‘in other words you’re like everybody else – like me – in this country.  We loathe it but we do nothing about it.  It seems to us that we can’t.  We’re slaves of this, at the moment, the Labour Government, who don’t want to stop all this.”

Well, there’s your perfect answer about “Why didn’t the Germans stop Hitler?”  It isn’t as easy as that, is it?  What are you going to do to stop immigration here?  What have you done, if you don’t agree with it?  Nothing.  Nor have I.  what are you going to do tomorrow?  You think and think and think, but you can’t do much about it, can you?  Because it takes a bit of guts and organisation for thousands of people to march up and say “Look – Stop, Mr Hitler”, or to march up to the Government and say  “Look here – Stop this.”  I’m talking about the average mass of people.  Not extremists.  You don’t do anything, do you?  There’s your answer,  you see.  What could the Germans do?

“Those bastard Germans” as people say, were exactly in the same predicament – rank and file – as we were.

Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer  I know most of us were very bitter after the war because we saw so many atrocities, but the thing is, we very politely forget the atrocities that we ourselves carried out.  This is why we got our arse kicked out of India.  It so happens that I’ve been to all these places, and it also happens that I’ve seen some of the atrocities we ourselves did on the Indians.  To us they were just bloody slaves – literally.  We treated them like slaves.  We kicked their arse if they dared to ask for a cigarette.

Another point I want to make is this:  in the British Navy, as in all forces – army,  airforce, ectetera, particularly in times of war, and particularly in times of action, the law – the KRRs – was that if you refused to obey a superior officer’s direct command, after being warned three times in front of any witness, he was at liberty to shoot you dead on the spot. (2)

What I want to put to you is this – “These bastard Germans” as people say, were exactly in the same predicament – rank and file – as we were.  Whilst I know that atrocities were perpetrated, these were from the ranks of people like Hitler and Himmler, and the high-ranking officers, and it was handed down.  The German forces were much more strict in discipline – you weren’t allowed to think for yourself at all.  All you had to do was obey and die.  So therefore I don’t like people saying “bastard Germans”, or anything like that, because they were in exactly the same predicament as we were.  They were fighting for their country.  They were misled.  But Christ, so were we.

1.    RAF Locking, near Weston-super-Mare.   A RAF Radio School camp, now closed.

2.   KRRs:  King’s Rules and Regulations.

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28 Back in Civvy Street

When I came out the Airforce I went up the Labour.  I said “Can I have a job please?”

Scunthorpe Man   I was demobbed June, 1946.  I’d been in nearly seven years. They did offer for me to stay on but it was straight away “No”.  I wanted to be out, although, later on, you wonder whether you should have stayed on, for the security, and by then you were just starting to enjoy life, more or less.  You’d got used to it.

When I came out my daughter was a year old and there was no money in baking.  It was the biggest paid job that counted at the time.  Before the war I was apprenticed at the bakery – I didn’t want to go to the steel works, but after the war you could get a bit of overtime there, to make your money up.  So that was it.   I went there.

Commercial Traveller   I wanted to be an electrician when I came out the forces – I wanted to do anything but tailoring, which I’d been in before the war.  You’ve got no idea what it was like in the tailoring trade before the war.  Oh God, it was a real sweatshop.  It was slavery.  I wanted to get out of it.  At first I wanted to be a musician, then I decided I wanted to be an electrician – this was before I went into the tailoring trade.  My old man pushed me into it though, and I forgot about it for a while.

I was very interested in my work as an electrician in the RAF.  I used to love my job.  I didn’t follow it up when I came out of the forces because there was no money in it, and I wanted to set up home.  There was a hell of a lot of money in tailoring, so I went back into it.

Tailor  When I came out there was such a demand for skilled workers because of this tremendous demand for civilian clothing, that in the tailoring trade we were earning three to four times the national average wage.  Employers were even offering us more to leave our employment with one firm to join them.  Our Union, which was very much controlled by the Communist Party, accused us of blackmailing the employers!  Who was in the union?  Nobody bothered about the union – you could earn four times the union rate!  Who the hell was interested in the bloody union?  When I left the services I immediately went into earning good money, to rebuild something of a domestic life.  My second child was on the way…

When I went to the Housing Department at Woodford they said “We don’t want your type here”

East London Royal Engineer   When I came out the army I didn’t know where my wife and sister-in-law were living because they’d been moved a couple of times.  Where they’d been staying had been blasted by a V2.  I eventually found that they were living in a requisitioned house in Woodford – Chigwell Road.  I lived there for a while and started work on the building, but they wanted to throw us out.  The bloke who owned the house wanted it back.  He was a dentist and said he wanted it for his own living accommodation.  When I went to the Housing Department at Woodford they said “We don’t want your type here – You come from Stratford.  You’ll have to go back there.”  I went to Stratford Town Hall and they gave me a requisitioned flat in Romford Road.

I only got called up for Z Reserve, didn’t I?    Everybody who was demobbed was put on Z Reserve.  You was liable for call-up, to keep you in touch with army life.  I was working on the building and I got called up for two weeks training at Ripon.  Instead of getting my wages which I was getting on the building, all I got was army pay.

I didn’t do nothing, ‘cos I went sick all the time.  The old army training came out then – all the skives.  Most of us went sick with bad backs.  If you said you had a bad back you had three days excused duty.  On the fourth day you went up again and got another three days. So you got through your fortnight that way – being obstructive. Resenting it.  Which you would.

When I came out the Airforce I went up the Labour.  I said “Can you help me find a job please?”

London Waaf    She said “What’ve you been doing?  I said “I’ve been doing post-office work.”  She said “You’re not in the airforce now,’ she said “you’re out, and I’ve only got one job here, and that’s on the calculating punching machine.”  I said “What?”  She said at Holborn, in the Customs and Excise.

I went there for a fortnight.  It drove me mad.  I had to work there otherwise they’d have cut me off.  I’d have got no labour money.  I was sitting down at a desk all day, not talking to anyone, so I chucked it in and I got a job up the Odeon, Barking Road.  I was getting £2 a week.  That’s where I met Ern, my husband.   I had my airforce trousers, ‘cos I’d nicked my uniform.    When I was demobbed I got no civilian clothing.  Anyway, I finished up the Odeon.  When I wasn’t working I used to stand on the corner and talk to the blokes I knew.  All of a sudden Ernie came along.  He had a lovely white shirt on.  I said to Jimmy Wilson “Cor bly” (‘cos then he had big long sideboards), “who’s that bloke?  Don’t half look a killer, don’t he?”  He was drunk as a Lord, Ernie.   He was singing I’ll Take you Home Again, Kathleen.

A couple of nights later when I was working at the Odeon I said to my mate “I’m going to have a giggle with this bloke.”  I shows him to his seat and I says “Get in there, boozer.”   In the dark he didn’t know it was me.  I comes out the Odeon after the show and there’s Ernie and his mates standing on the corner.  He says to me “Would you like a drink?”  I says “You’ve only asked me ‘cos they’re shut.”  So he says “Can I see you home?  Can I carry your parcel?”  So I said “Alright.”

When we gets home I says “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?” – ‘cos coffee sounds posher than tea, don’t it.  He says “Will they all be in bed?”  So I said “Yeah.”  He comes in and they’re all up, aren’t they!  There was me Dad, there was me Mum.  Me Dad’s standing there with his hand with no fingers and he says to Ern “I know you!  You used to throw apple cores at me!”  Ern sys “Ooh, you never told me he was your Dad.”  When my Dad was a commissionaire at the pictures all the kids used to chuck stuff at him.

Ern used to come round on his old bike.  Bring me 20 fags.  We only knew one another ten weeks and we was married.

I went back into the same job I was doing before I got called up.  I was back there three days and it didn’t seem as if I’d been away

Paratrooper  I’d been away four years and I was sitting indoors.  Boiling hot day and the old lady said to me “Why don’t you go out?”  None of my mates was at home.  I said “Alright, I’ll go out for a walk round.”  As I goes out, I gets into the Heathway and I bumps into a bloke.  He said “You been down the firm yet?”  I said  “What the bleeding hell do I want to go down there for?”  “They’ve got some money for you.”  “Eh? What?”  “Yeah” he said “you know they paid out for holiday bonus” – (they used to give you £5 at the start of the summer holiday) – “well, they’ve been putting that away for blokes in the forces.”  I went down and saw about it.

I went down on the Friday.  I walked into the firm, and honest, I was glad to get out!  The noise was deafening.  After being away all that time I’d forgotten just how bad it was.  There was all the banging and clattering.  I thought:  Sod this.  I went up the office and I picked up fifteen quid.  I saw some of the lads.  “Look at him” they said, “the old Red Berry on.”  I said “Yeah, it’s a load of shit.”  There was blokes there I’d worked with, before I got called up.  They hadn’t got called up.  They had things wrong with them.

All the time you was in the forces Briggs kept you on the books and when I came out the forces things was bad.  There was a fuel crisis.  There was no coal.  You had to queue up for coal.  I still had my army greatcoat, and I was glad of it.  I daresay that if I’d looked ’round I might have found something different, but at that time I was married and the first child was on the way.  I said to the wife “They’ve kept me on the books.  The least I can do is go back and see what’s there.”

I went back into the same job I was doing before I was called up.  I was there three days and it didn’t seem as if I’d been away.  I thought:  I don’t know – all that what’s happened – you’ve been up at 2 o’ clock on cliff tops, jumped out of planes, God knows what, and you come back and you’re doing exactly the same job!  After a couple of days it seemed that all that four years was nothing.

We were going to try and start a business.  I was mad keen on having a business

Company Sergeant Major  At the end of the war I was going to volunteer for another six months.

His Wife  Until he mentioned it to me!

Company Sergeant Major  You see, I was stationed at a place called Bottesford. (1)   I used to take the parade in the morning at 8 0′ clock – the whole company – and I used to pass it over to the Duty Officer for that day.  Then he’d say “O.K.  March them off.”  Right turn – off they went.  As soon as they were out of sight – straight back to the billet. I got my pack on and off I went.  Detailed a van to get to Bottesford Station and I was away.

The funny part about it was, there was a shop in the village about quarter a mile from the camp.  I was walking past one day and who should come and say “Hallo Mr —–” but a manager I knew when I was with Sainsbury’s.  He was making a pile down there – getting all these pies and cakes – no signatures being given and then he’d write to the railway, saying that he hadn’t received this or that, or that it had arrived damaged.  He was getting credit for it, and flogging the stuff behind the counter.  It was a fiddle between him and the drivers.  I got to talk to him and eventually I landed up at the back of the counter, helping him to weigh up all the butter and sugar – ‘cos it was all rationed in those days.  I used to go down there twice a week of an evening.  Do you know?  I never used to get an ounce out of that bloke, did I?  I got all that I wanted – eggs, bacon and so on, but I had to pay for it.

I was demobbed January 8th, 1946.  I was mad keen on having my own business, in the food trade.  I personally think I would have done well in business, but my wife’s family was in business all their life.  It was a tied-in life, especially with their trade.  Being pawnbrokers they had to have iron bars up on all the windows, and somebody always had to be on the premises otherwise they couldn’t get it insured.  My wife threw all that sort of thing at me.  You work all day and all night, which is quite true, but I wouldn’t have minded it.

His Wife  Our child had been born and we went to the council in Stratford  to see if they could offer us anything, because I’d been bombed out in Forest Gate.   They said “We’ve only got one flat.” – they tell you this tale – “Here’s the key.”  It was nearly a riot when people saw you’d got a key – it was dreadful.  The flat was a turning off Carpenter’s Road, Stratford.  It was terrible!  It was vile!  It was like a stable.  It stunk to high heaven, ‘cos Yardley’s soap factory was there.  We called in on friends of ours.  During the war they’d bought a house.  They said “We’ve got a couple of rooms to spare.  Come over here.”  And that’s what we did, and we stayed with them until 1949.

I don’t think anyone knew about the squatters until they were in

Scunthorpe Man  One family started putting furniture in, and then quite  few followed, before it got in the press.  Once it was known, it went all over the country, in the south.  This was at Saltcliffe.  It was an army camp place.  It had been a searchlight unit that had been there.  The nissen huts were still there.  They were all local folk, all from the town.  One chap came out of there and lived door to us at Newlands.  Mr Gregory.  He’d been in the navy.

For about a year or two after the war there were squatters in different parts of the town – anywhere where there empty camps.  It wasn’t politically motivated.  (2)   It was just people coming back.  Some were living in with people, and perhaps with a child – this sort of thing.  The idea of squatting just caught on.  Even where the civil aerodrome was – it had been a big bomber base – you could see, going on your way to Grimsby – the washing hanging out.  They were still squatting there long, long after the others had got cleared out of different places.

Before the war finished, anyone who was in the services and belonging to this area could put their name down on the council list.  We got a place – a prefab – straight away on account of having the baby and TB in the house and overcrowded.  When the housing position got better the folk who were squatting moved out.  Scunthorpe housing were soon on top of the situation.

When the war came to an end I was thinking of staying just until I could finish a course I was doing, get the degree out of it, and go back to Jamaica

Airgunner   At the end of the war I don’t want to stay on.  We had so much spare time on our hands that we was getting bored in camp.  Quite a few, like myself, applied to Benett College in Bristol to take a correspondence course.  I apply and got everything through.  Then I were posted down to Burtonwood here and I continues with the course. (3)   I had the intention that when I came out the airforce I would continue with it.  But when I came out I find that you got to work.

At that time I got a job near Rochdale – Castleton Moor.  In those days the fog was very bad.   As soon as, say, three o’ clock come, down come the fog.  It was very thick and two or three nights I had to walk it from Castleton Moor.  I was living up by Denmark Road, here in Manchester.  I had an attic room I rented.  When I had to walk it I didn’t reach home until half past one, for the buses, they used to come from Rochdale, and they used to turn ’round at what they call The Boundary, between Manchester and Rochdale.  They didn’t go further than that because the fog was so bad.  Everybody had to get off the bus and walk it. It was just impossible.  I couldn’t work and study, so I had to give up my studying.  When the war came to an end I was thinking of staying just until I could finish this course I was doing, get the degree out of it, and go back to Jamaica.  But it didn’t work out that way.  I’ve never been back to Jamaica since I left.

1.    Bottesford, Leicestershire.

2.   This was not necessarily the case by the time squatting reached London.

3.   Burtonwood, near Warrington, Cheshire.

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27 Demobbed

Demobbed?  I finished up in Palestine!

Scunthorpe Army Man  During the war the only exciting thing that was going to happen to me was we were earmarked to go the Far East.  The next step was getting kitted out and going over there, but fortunately, or unfortunately rather – ‘cos I was looking forward to it – the Japs packed in.  I thought: Champion!  Go and see a bit of the world, but that was it.  We didn’t go.

London Paratrooper  When the war in Europe finished this officer came round and said “You’ll still have your chance.  We’re still fighting out in Japan.”   I said “Bleeding good luck to you.  I don’t want to go to bloody Japan.”  But then the war in the Far East packed up and we got sent to Aldershot, about the time of the Stern Gang turn-out in Jerusalem. (1)

When we heard we were being sent there, all the young kids, because by that time I was twenty-three, getting on twenty-four – all the kids about nineteen or twenty, they were going out and buying themselves bowie-knives and they were practising throwing them – how many times they could stick it in a wall, that sort of thing.  I said to ’em “They’ll be a lot of good to you when you get out there.  You won’t want bowie-knives, you’ll want a few hand grenades.”

They sent all the paratroopers out there.  I was on the lorry, with my kit bag and everything, and as the lorry was revving up to pull out of the camp, the Company Runner came running down.  Handed a note to the Sergeant.  Sergeant looked round, looked up, saw me and said “Want you.  Get off.  Fetch your bag off.”  I thought: What’ve I done now?

By this time I was married, and the wife had had a nervous breakdown.  She’d heard I was going to Palestine.  She was in the London Hospital and the surgeon at the hospital wrote to the whatshisname and got me taken off.

I was still in the services when a lot of my mates came back from Palestine.  I was in the Naafi one day when a crowd of blokes came in.  I turned round and there was some of me mates.  They were saying “You was a lucky git.”  “What happened?”  The first night they were there they was put in a big encampment in a placed called Netanya, and it was all barbed wire ’round.  First night they were there this Stern Gang got in and machine-gunned the tents.  A lot got killed.  They never knew what it was about.

Royal Engineer  Demobbed?  I finished up in Jerusalem!  Helping out the Palestine Police.  Now that’s the part that got me – I was called up for four years fighting against the Germans to protect the Jews.  When it ended, they flew us, as an emergency, from Germany to Brussels airport to Cairo, to fight the Jews!  They were killing British Palestine police.

What happened was, they changed the division over into a Flying Squad effort, being the Light Infantry Division.  It was snowing when we left.  We was at Knokke first, Knokke, Belgium and then we went to Brussels.  They bunged us all on planes and we was away.  Landed at Cairo West airport, with all our gear.  They put on lorries and it took three days to cross the Sinai Desert, and we had no issue.  We were still in khaki and sweating like pigs.  Lips coming out like balloons.  Three days.

When we got there, there was another balls-up.  First job we had to do was building nissen huts to put all the extra infantry in, that was landing.  I thought to myself:  I don’t know – I’ve been chasing Germans for the last four years to protect Jews and now we’re chasing the Jews to protect ourselves.  We was all a bit perplexed, but no one was really interested, though, in what was happening.  After that sort of time you just followed orders.  You woke up in the morning, someone says such and such and you say “Yeah, alright.”

We were getting up at five in the morning and stringing barbed wire all around the streets and capturing all the Jews and taking them to the detention camp.  Being the RE’s we was also on explosives.  It took us three months – this is laughable – it took us three months to put barbed wire around the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.  We hung it around the roofs, we hung it around the doors, we hung it everywhere.  Three solid months – rolls of barbed wire.  One morning two milkmen walk in the door, with their white coats and a churn of explosives, stood it in the door and blew the fucking lot up. (2)

I left a couple of days afterwards, ‘cos I got compassionate posting home.  The wife was in hospital.  It took me fifteen days to get home.

There was a camaraderie in North Africa.  There wasn’t here

Ex  North African Campaign soldier  These bleeding skiving so and so’s that stayed over here – maybe they crawled, or maybe they were lucky, but they thought that if somebody like me turned up from abroad, that I wanted a driving job.  You’re pinching their nice cushy little number they’ve had all those years.  In fact, my soldiering over here, apart from the fact that I was married, was the most miserable of my whole army time.

At first I was at Croydon.  It was alright there.  I could get home occasionally, but then they started to reshuffle.  I thought it was too good to last.  I wound up at Ashford, Middlesex.  Three miles from Staines.  In those days there wasn’t a London airport.  It had just started.

Back in Blighty the bullshit drove you up the wall.  It was ridiculous.  I mean, your name goes up on Orders.  You’ve been told you’ve got to scrub your kit, and you’ve got to do khaki green.  So you do it khaki green.  You polish your brasses.  You lay it out on yer pit, ready for inspection.  You’re happy with it, but your name goes up – “Driver Robson will report to Company Office.  Kit was not satisfactory.”  You breathe on your brasses, rub them up and take them in the Sergeant-Major.  “Brought my kit in, Sergeant Major.”  “Yes, that’s alright.”  “Thank you, sir.”  You think: stupid git.  All I’ve done is breath on it and rub it with a piece of rag.  You’re stupid enough to become a Brigadier.  I eventually got demobbed 10th of May, 1946.  I was Group 28.

I was at Aldershot when I got demobbed

London Paratrooper  We was getting called in one by one and getting told “If you like to stay on we’ll make you a Sergeant.”  I said “You’ll make me a Sergeant?  What about three months ago?  Why now?  I wasn’t good enough to be a Sergeant three months ago.  No mate, you can stick your bleeding army.  I’ve had enough.”

We went down to Guildford to get our demob suit.  You was all the same – Majors, Colonels, Captains – you was all waiting in the same place.  All together.  There was this Captain, he still had his tunic on, so you could see his pips, and there was this little trilby hat all alone on a shelf.  I was making for it and he came round the other way, but I got there first.  He said “Oh damn and blast!”  I said “And damn and blast you!”

We had the old pin stripe suit, and you could keep your great coat, respirator case and socks.  I remember walking down the turning where I lived with my mother-in-law, down in Stepney, carrying all me civvies gear in a big cardboard box.  My soldiering days were over.

I was in one of the units that was training for the final assault on Japan

Fusilier   It was the Black Watch.  We’re paratroopers, we’re an airborne unit, and we were training in the jungle to maybe land in a city!   When we found out this was what we were training for we were sweating blood!

When the war finished, I remember that as clear as day.  I heard all the noise coming through the different parts.  It was like somebody had lifted a ton weight.  You didn’t realise it was there – you’d become so accustomed to it.  But suddenly it wasn’t there and you say “I’m going to live now!  I’m no going to die!  I’m going to live!”  And your outlook was completely different.

When the war was finished and we were still in the jungle they came around, a day or two after we’d heard the news, looking for volunteers to jump into prisoner of war  camps, to bring in medical supplies and food – to let the lads see that the war was over and that they were thinking about them.  But a lot of us knew that the Japanese were still fighting in places like that, and we didnae want to do it.  A mate of mine who was a Corporal comes up to me and says “Morry, if you want to live, get the hell out of it.  They’re coming looking for volunteer to jump into these different prisoner of war camps.”  And you couldnae find a man in the place!  Everybody had disappeared.  Nobody wanted to die after the war finished.

I was medically examined for repatriation.  It was discovered that because of a serious illness, connected to heat exhaustion I’d suffered, that my eyes had been affected.  I was downgraded to B1 or B4, but I was warned that my demob would be more straightforward if I’d agree to being classed as A1.  Lower grades, apparently, had to go through two courses of remedial treatment, which was intended to upgrade the disabled soldier before demob.  Like others – not unnaturally – I chose to be upgraded to A1, in order to speed up my journey home and out of the forces.  Later I learned that had I remained B4 I’d have been entitled to a war pension, and it makes me wonder how many blokes got this treatment to save the authorities money.

Prior to repatriation we were sent to special education class which took the form of brainwashing.  They were trying to  prepare us for our homecoming.   They were telling us we shouldn’t be resentful when we found that our people back home just weren’t interested in the war, or who had won it, or what you’d done, or where you’d been.  They were too busy getting on with normal everyday living.

When I did get home, and I came off the train at Central Station and went to Hope Street to get myself a bus – loaded up with kitbags and God knows what, piled on top of my shoulders – despite the fact that I had been demobbed, had a demob suit and all the rest of it – I just couldnae get a bloody bus!   Everybody jumped in and passed me to get on the bus.  I was so angry about the whole situation that I walked the whole bloody road home rather than suffer the indignity of having to fight to get onto the bus.  Nobody cared an arse about the home-coming soldier, or the veteran with his medals.  Maybe that was to the good.  People were totally disinterested.  The show was over.

1.  The Stern Gang was the name used by the British and others to describe the Zionist terrorist group Lehi “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”.  It was led by Avraham Stern, and at first was ideologically fascist, then became bolshevik.  It was founded after a split within Irgun (see below) in 1940.

2.  Bomb attack on 22 July, 1946 by the right wing Zionist terrorist group Irgun.  The King David Hotel was the headquarters of the British administration in Palestine.  Ninety people were killed.

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26 VE Day and the Labour Landslide

We all had visions of socialism then

East London Teenager Boy  VE Day was one of the most emotional days in my life. (1)   There were Union Jacks out and every one was saying “We want the King!”  Everyone was shouting for the King.  Men and women.  Mind you, they were shouting for Louis 16th a few weeks before they cut his head off.  You can’t go on the emotions of… – People were so pent up.  There was mass shagging in the streets… – No sort of class distinction.  I walked into a posh hotel and everyone was offering me drinks.  Everybody.  What amazed me was where they got the drink from!  No one ever had it.  At least, we didn’t, because before this, pubs were closed. People had to walk miles to get a drink.  A bloke would say to another bloke “I know a pub that’s got some beer.”  The pub would be packed solid until they drunk the beer out.  So I don’t know where they got the drink from.

East End Girl  On VE Day I watched my Dad dance up and down the street.  He was dead drunk, my Dad.  He tap danced all up and down our street.  My Dad used to have cups for tap dancing.  Everybody was out on the street, drunk.  We watched from the windows.

Somerset Girl  On VE Day they had bonfires on hilltops.  They took weeks building up huge bonfires on all the hills – on Street Hill and Wearyall Hill, between Street and Glastonbury, and all the hills around.

Somerset Boy  From Ham Hill we could see all the other fires.  A sailor at our fire actually threw himself in the middle of the bonfire and they had to haul him off.  He was in flames.  They had to roll him down the hill to put the flames out.  He was drunk.  That was Victory night.

2nd Somerset Girl    VE day in Winscombe was very dead.  We were longing for something.  We could have gone to Weston but there wasn’t a late bus to come back.  We really felt left out of things.  You read about all these marvellous things going on in London – dancing in the streets.

Paratrooper   I was in Ireland on VE Day.  There’s a bay there called Dundrum Bay and I was sitting on a little bit of grass thinking to myself:  “Well, I don’t know, all this bleeding time, all that square bashing, all them manoeuvres, for me to be sitting here when it’s all over.  I’m still here.  And them poor sods I joined up with, who I was working with before the war, are probably blown to bits, or something like that.  And what for?”

The following day we was on a road run.  They took us on a road run all round the country lanes, and we were running  down this slope in this little lane and an old Irish boy’s walking along, with an old hat and a bloody great knurled stick in his hand, and as we’re running past he said “What the bloody hell are you running for?  The war’s over!”  We was pissing ourselves laughing.

Liverpool Mother  I spent my VE Day in Southdown Hospital.  After going right through the war, when all the celebrations were on I took appendicitis and was taken away.  I could hear all this singing going on and I was saying to myself:  Ooh, I’d love to be out there.

Liverpool Teenage Girl  On VE Night there was a gang of us got together.  We were still working the railway, this gang.  We were on 2 to 11 shift, my mate and I.  We got that much drink, we walked up from Central Station and the next thing we remembered doing was sitting in Abercromby Square Gardens about 4 in the morning – singing.  Everyone went mad those two days.  I don’t think anyone slept.

Teeside Boy Soldier  We were stationed in Catterick and a gang of us went to Middlesbrough.  There was a lad from Newcastle and he took a box of hand-grenades and a bloody great box of flares.  In Middlesbrough he was throwing hand-grenades in park.  We finished up in Acland Road.  We came across a pile of road chippings and barrels of tar.  How we did it I don’t know, but we got about three of these barrels stacked one on top of the other and set fire to bottom one.  And we were dancing around them.

Staffs Miner   VE Day they gave you extra money to stop in.  I was on nights when word came through – day’s pay and home Jeeves, and don’t spare the horses!  Extra pint in pub! Extra ale!

Royal Engineer   I was in Germany on VE Day.  Our division took Bremen and another division took Hamburg.  We went into Bremen brewery, me and the engineers.  We had to take a lorry and pick up the company’s beer.  We all got pissed and nearly drowned because down in the wine vaults of the brewery the maniacs had knocked the pipes off and the sherry ran all over the floor.  You was wading with sherry up to your knees.  No lights on.  We were shining torches.  And the stink!  You was intoxicated with the smell.

According to the propaganda it was only the Germans who bombed hospitals

RAF Flight Engineer   On the 26 of June we took our ground crew over Germany, to show them what they’d helped us do.  What we called Cook’s Tours.  We went from the flooded areas of Holland to Cologne, from Cologne to Bonn, from Bonn to Mainz, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Wuppertal, Wessel – which was nothing left at all, as far as I remember – Arnhem, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and back to base.  What I saw I thought was disgusting.

Cologne was just rubble.  The railway station was like Paddington, but all you could see were the arches.  The Cathedral was standing right next to it – the spire was still standing.  It looked reasonably whole but apart from that you couldn’t see a building that was standing.  All the bridges were down, or seemed to be.  At Frankfurt I saw a hospital, like a “U” sideways.  It had great Red Crosses on the roof.  One wing was completely gutted and the other one had bomb holes in it.  Obviously you can’t see what you’re bombing at night, but according to our propaganda it was only the Germans who bombed hospitals.

RAF Cook's Tour013

During the 1945 election I was stationed at Hunstanton in Norfolk

Leeds Man   The government had agreed that soldiers could take part in the elections but not dressed in army uniform. (2)   Any soldier who wanted to take part in elections had merely to inform his Colonel and wear civilian clothing if he was conducting any activity.  There was nothing in Hunstanton.  I thought “I’ll have to do something here.”

I went to the local Coop and I asked to see the manager.  I was in uniform.  I asked him “Are you a member of the Labour Party?”  “It so happens I am.  Why?”  “Where is the Labour Party?”  “We haven’t got any Labour Party.”  “How about forming one?”  “It’s a good idea.  Look” he says, “go down the railway station.”  The railway station clerk was the stationmaster, signals, porter, clerk, luggage man – he was the whole lot.  And he was delighted.  I said “Do you know anybody?”  “Yes” he said.  “I know a bus driver and his wife who are Labour.”  And there was also the War Agricultural Officer, the man who looked after the farms.  I went to see this lad and I’ve been friends with him ever since.

“What are we going to do?” he says.  “We’re going to form a Labour Party.”  We called a meeting.  We had about a dozen people.  None of them were public speakers.  I was the only one who could stand up in public.  The bus driver had a belly as big as Fatty Arbuckle’s (3).  He lent me a pair of trousers and a coat.  I used to go to this Agricultural Officer’s house, change into the trousers, sew them up the back to make them fit (he always had to have them back the same night, so I always had to sew them up every time), and I’d go travelling ’round the villages making public speeches.  Our candidate was a Major Wise.  The headquarters were Kings Lynn – but we won the blessed seat.  We won it!  Everybody was shattered that we won it.

Conscript   I was on a boat going to India when the election results came over on the tannoy.  When we heard that Labour had won – now this is a true story – all the soldiers on this troopship, thousands of them – got up and sang the Red Flag.  The officers couldn’t stop it.  They didn’t try. (4)

Arran Farmer  The great highlights of the Second World War were Churchill’s speeches.  A remarkable man.  When people felt thoroughly down old Churchill would come on the radio and by the time he was finished we were quite sure everything was OK.  It was Churchill that won the war.  It was him and nobody else that pulled the nation together.  It was a terrible reflection on the British people that they could do such a thing to a man who had done so much for them.

Army Mechanic, North African and Italian campaign   I believe, in fact I’m bloody sure,  that when the war was over and the Labour government got in – not that I’ve got any time for them now – I believe it was because of the fact that at the time the Tories were in power.  They felt the Tories were to blame for not seeing the wood for the trees and arming earlier so that they would be in a position to say to Hitler “Pack it up.”

East London Man   A lot of people knew unconsciously that Churchill would be a great war leader because he was such an aggressive bastard.  Years and years after the war, when Churchill died, they tried to set up a memorial fund for him, and they even had the temerity to put it to Trade Union branches.  The war was in 1939.  There were men who were adolescents in 1912 when he did the Tonypandy killings.  Thirteen years before 1939 Churchill had been very, very  active in the ’26 strike. (5)

Churchill was also  well known in Stepney for bringing the military into Sydney Street.  Even people who knew nothing about politics knew that guardsmen and artillery machines came into Sydney Street, in their area, to destroy a couple of people who were non-existent anyway. (6)   In the whole of the East End people detested Conservatives, even without knowing what they were.  But Churchill was known to them.  Even people with hazy memories knew he was a ratbag, and that he was a Tory.  Five years later in 1945 the extent of the people voting for Labour proved this, and the Tories and the Times and the Telegraph and the Observer couldn’t understand it.  They were saying “How can they do this to our great war leader?”

At the time of the General Election the Daily Mirror invited youth to write an article, and I wrote an article on saying how I thought Labour would deal with it.  I was really proud of seeing me name in print.  I showed it to everybody.  In those days I thought Labour was the be-all and end-all of everything.  We all had visions of socialism then.

Paratrooper, Londoner   When the Smithfield porters were out on strike we were detailed to go and work in the Smithfield market. (7)   We were supposed to blackleg.  We had three ton Bedfords, down at Shorncliffe. (8)  I was driving them at the time.  They said “Right, make your way to Smithfields.”  I was in the second lorry and my mate was driving the first one.  There was about twenty to thirty blokes in each lorry, and there were four lorries.  I said to my mate “Do you know your way to Smithfield?”  I haven’t a fucking clue” he said.  “Follow me”, I said, “I’ll take you to Smithfield.”

Know where we ended up?  Hastings.  We had a great time, mucking about on the beach.  I wasn’t going to lead those lorries to Smithfield.   All the drivers were put on a charge.  I took the responsibility.  I said “Look, I thought I knew the way to London, but I must have took the wrong turning.”  They couldn’t do nothing about it, but we was confined to camp for five days.  I wasn’t going to go up there and do that – break the strike.  All the lads were in agreement.  We all had a day out, down at the seaside.

1.  VE Day – Victory in Europe – was on 8 May, 1945.

2. Whilst the war in the Far East was still on the British wartime coalition government announced  that a General Election would take place on 5 July.  Campaigning for the election started on 4 June, 1945.

3.  Fatty Arbuckle, a well known American Silent Film comedian.

4. The results of the British General Election were announced on 26 July.  (Postal votes from troops and personnel overseas were one reason for the gap between the polling day and the announcement of results).  The Labour Party had a majority of 145 seats.

5.  Churchill, a Conservative, had switched to the Liberal Party before the First World War, and was Home Secretary in November 1910 (not 1912) when he sent in troops to reinforce the police in the Tonypandy area in the South Wales mining area, following riots by locked out miners.  Only one person died, allegedly as a consequence of being hit by a police baton.  During the 1926 General Strike, in support of miners, Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative Government.  With no newspapers being printed the Government produced the anti trade union British Gazette, which Churchill edited.

6.  The Siege of Sydney Street, 3 January, 1911.  As Home Secretary Churchill sent in troops to Stepney to flush out alleged Latvian anarchist bank robbers.

7.  Smithfield Meat Market, London. This strike was during April, 1946, eight months after the Labour Party came to power.  Chuter Ede was the Home Secretary.

8.  Shorncliffe Army Base, Kent.

 

 

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25 Advance Across Western Europe

The flying bombs were dreadful bombs.  That’s when they were on their last knockings

London Lad   There really were dreadful bombs.  You never knew when they were coming.  There was no warning.  There was not even an air raid siren.  They just came down and exploded.

London Woman  Them flying bombs were shockers.  They were the V1s.  You’d see what looked like a little flame, and it’d go sailing over and you’d feel quite safe – safe whilst it was moving and making a noise.  There was no harm at all.  But the minute it stopped!  Pandemonium would break out.

Her Husband  Remember when that one stopped over here?  That day?  There was people in the pub opposite and they run over here and stood in our passage, with their beer still in their hand.  I don’t know what they thought, because they were as safe over in the pub as they were in our passage.  It was just panic.  And then there was the rockets – the V2s.

RAF Flight Sergeant   Towards the end of my tour we started doing daylights over France.  The buzz bombs and the V2’s were getting bad and our targets were the various V2 bases.  I was astounded to see field after field pitted with bomb holes – this was before our troops had got that far.  There didn’t seem to be a field in France that wasn’t pock-marked with craters.

Company Sergeant Major  I was on leave from Africa and every time one of those fly bombs used to come over I used to get frightened stiff.  It felt as if they used to go off every time you sat down for a meal.  The siren would go and as soon as it went,  my stomach turned over and over.  When the siren packed up and you came back to have a bit to eat, you didn’t want anything.  Everything went to my stomach.

One of the finest sights I saw when I did come home was a thousand bomber raid.  We were going over to friends that evening.  A fly bomb had dropped near Prince Regent’s Lane and I wanted to see it. (1)  All I saw was people picking up their beds and walking along the streets.  They were filthy.  I hadn’t seen things like that.  On the way there we were going along the sewer bank and there was this tremendous noise and we looked up and the sky – you couldn’t see it for planes.  It was a wonderful sight that was.

Airman, RAF regiment   In 1945 we were in Holland guarding airfields.  It was terrible because the Germans had blown up the dykes and everything was flooded.  I used to see the planes going over in Holland.  It must have been hell in those German cities.  They were bombed by the British during the night and by the Americans by day.  I could imagine what it was like.  It must have been terrible.

None of our lot deserted in Germany,  but I think there was quite a few Infantry blokes who went on the run.

Royal Engineer  They’d had enough to it.  Once they got in a town I suppose they thought:  why go any further?  They’d had enough.

As we’re advancing through Germany I got fourteen days leave, from the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  We was putting a bridge across there, to get our Infantry across.  There was a little village and the road ran straight down to the canal.  We put a folding boat bridge across.  We were sleeping in a farm, a mile back down the road, and they started shelling the boat bridge.  They’d wait until you’ve finished it, then they’d blow a big hole in it.  This Corporal, Bill Berry –  he was a nice bloke –  when I got back he said to me “You’ve got fourteen days leave, starting tomorrow.”  It was a rota system.  Only one of you went, and it had come round to me.  And then he says “They’ve blown one of our boats out the river – Come on, we’ve got to go back up there.”  I said “You go and get stuffed”, I said.  “I’d rather be shot than go back there, Bill.”  “I’ll have to report you.”  “You’ll have to shoot me.  I’m not going back there.”

I got back to England by train and boat.  The driver took me to the nearest town with the water cart the following morning, and I got a train from there.  I still went back to my unit though.  I must have been fucking mad.  I must have been potty.  Mind, I was five days adrift.  I let them keep going forward.  Trouble was, they stopped and I caught up with them.  I suppose the fact I came back was part of the British Army inborn discipline – ‘cos you’d do it in England.  They’d say “Fourteen days.  Report back so and so a day, 1200 hours.”

Funnily enough, a lot of blokes on active service were glad to get away from London and back to the front.  If they came on leave they couldn’t stand it because they hadn’t experienced air raids, being on army service.  They’d say “I don’t want to know this.  I want to get back to my unit.”   Same as our infantry used to say to us, if they came back for a rest.  “We don’t like it here.”  They wasn’t comfortable.  “We want to get back to the front.  All we got to face up there is rifle and machine-gun bullets.  Back here”, they used to say “you get shells and mortars.  Up there we can dodge them little bullets.  Keep your head down.”

They were very strict on fraternisation with Germans.  Very strict.

I never heard of anyone getting caught out with a German girl.  They were too crafty to get caught.  It was as much to do with the German population, as anybody, because they didn’t want to know you, even if you wanted to fraternise.

It wasn’t all Germans you could get off with.  You got Dutch – all kinds.  One place in Holland the locals had to go from one town to another place to collect their potato rations. I was working on the road there, and you’d see these girls carrying half a hundred weight (2) in a sack, walking along the road.  Blokes would give them a bar of chocolate and they’d hop over the hedge and have a jump for a bar of chocolate.  It was survival.  Couldn’t blame ’em for doing it.

With kids, you couldn’t really stop fraternisation.  They couldn’t understand, could they?  If they spoke to you – what could you do?  Couldn’t just kick ’em up the arse.  But I don’t mind the Germans myself.  I found them better than anybody, because they were the nearest to English people that I’ve seen.  The English breed.  They had exactly the same habits, in all ways.  The same attitudes.  I mean, you could offer them a fag and they’d tell you to stick it up your arse.  Some of the others, they’d come crawling up for fags.

At first they was allowed to bring back anything, but they had to put a stop to it

Some of these people were bringing back furniture.  I seen one bloke when I went on that home leave, he had a small baby piano on his back, strapped on his back, coming down the gangplank.  A little German miniature piano.  I didn’t have nothing – No, yes I did –  a kind of horse blanket I’d been using to sit on.  It was black on one side and leopard skin on the other.  I’ve still got it, in fact.  But it got so bad they had to stop it.  They were looting everything.  It was mainly the blokes behind the line – artillery and corps troops.  They was packing it up in packing cases, labelling it and sending it home.  But they had to put a stop to it.

Because of the secret radio we had in the camp we knew about the D Day landings and the advance

Guernsey POW  We even had maps.  It was pitiful – ‘cos towards the end we had a map pinned in our prison cell, with makeshift pins it, and the German guards used to come in, nod to us, and look at the map to see where they’d got pushed back to.  They were really crumbling fast towards the end.  Whether they were losing or winning, I must say that they always behaved correctly with me, with all of us, really.

Towards the end we were constantly getting air raids from the American Flying Fortresses.  We used to spend days down in the dungeons, with our German guards.  Other times you could hear rumblings, bombs and some sort of firing, which we all agreed was only a few miles away.

Finally the German Commandant called up our Chief – our Representative – and said “I’m here to do my duty and I intend to continue to do it.  I can’t put up a white flag of surrender – I’ve got to fly the German flag.  If I put up a white flag, as I’ve told you before, there are other people in Germany, besides the German Army.”  I think he was frightened that the SS and the Nazis would then come into the camp, and he wouldn’t then know who he was fighting!  To give them their due, many of the SS were fighting to the last.  So we had to keep the German flag flying.

Another week went by and I was out on a pass.  The locals were frightened out of their bloody lives.  I’ve never seen such fear.  I told them “I had it five years ago – I saw the same thing in Guernsey.  You’re only going through what my people went through.”  That was the only way I could help them.  I went along this path and there was a load of dead Germans shot through the back of the head, so I knew someone had been there in the night.  But who?  We’d seen no one.  All this was highly unpleasant.

The German Commandant called most of his staff together, promoted them – a typical army thing – shook hands, gave them civilian clothes, told them to filter out of the camp and God be with you.  He himself stayed on duty with a remnant of his staff.  They decided they wouldn’t desert – which I’m glad they didn’t, as we were able to save them being shot by the Americans.

One of the prisoners said, of all things, could he go out of the camp on a bike with a white flag and try and find some Americans!

We kept hearing gunfire.  One day it would be to our left, the next to our right, but you never saw anything.  I went out and I tried to put through a telephone call to a German civilian some miles away.  I got through to the Exchange and it was dreadful – I could sense the fear.  I said to the telephonist “Have you seen any Americans?”  This poor bloody girl – I could sense how scared she was.  It’s dreadful.  it’s not laughable at all, because I’d felt like that five years before.  It’s indescribable.  You could almost feel the telephone trembling.  “No – nein, nein.”  I said “Don’t you know where they are?  Are your lines still open to so and so?”  Yes” she said “they’re still open there.”  But this German guard said “Come off it, Mr Hickman.”  I said “I’m only trying to get some news.”  I said “I can tell you this mate, it’s your army, but there’s no Americans there, there and there.”  He said “That won’t help me much. Come on, let’s get back inside the camp.”

One of the prisoners said, of all things, could he go out of the camp on a bike with a white flag and try and find the Americans!  The German Commandant said “If you go out with a white flag and there’s any Nazi troops left they’ll probably shoot you.  If you go out with no flag at all, or a German one, the Americans will probably shoot you, and ” – he had a bit of humour – ” I’m not going out there.  I’m staying here.”

Finally, however, this guy did go out on a bike with a white flag and he ran into an American panzer column – spearhead – and they promptly clapped guns on him, and what they weren’t going to do to him is indescribable.  He finally told them that there was a British camp five miles down this road.  We were in the camp when two American jeeps came up the road in a cloud of dust with about five Shermans, and our feller was sitting on the radiator with two guns pointing in his back.  They suspected a trap.

The bloke jumps off and says “You see?  I told you so.”  The German Commandant and his staff walked out and clicked their heels, saluted, and surrendered to the officer in charge.  The Germans still kept the gates locked, they were still on duty, apart from those who had walked out to surrender.  We were so pent up we went up to the wire and I saw one guy actually claw his way through the wire.  He went berserk – “Freedom!  Freedom!”  He ended up the other side an awful mess, but he didn’t feel any pain.  He was completely berserk.  But do you know what?  I almost did it myself.

There then followed about six weeks of chaos.  It was total anarchy.  The Americans bowled into another camp near us, which they thought was a concentration camp.   “OK guys! – You’re free!”  Clang.  The door opens and out stream all these men and women in these horrible pyjama suits.  But they were ordinary German civilian criminals.  They were a right shower.  It was dreadful.

I ran into some of these pyjama clad boys along the road.  They had an old car, which they had pinched.  It was like a cowboy film.  It was packed with women and fellers, all firing guns up in the air and waving bottles of hooch about.  They came slap on me, jumped out and said “Who are you?”  I couldn’t speak French or Polish, and I thought it was best not to speak German, so I spoke English.  Nobody seemed to understand me.  They were poking guns in me and examining my clothes, so I spoke to them in German.  I said “I’m a prisoner like you.  Our camp has been freed.”  There was a lot of natter amongst them.  “You’re a prisoner?  Shake hands!  Have a drink.”  I said “Ooh yeah, I’ll have a drink.”  But what horrified me, the geyser with this huge whisky bottle said “Ah, there’s hardly any left – we’ll get some more”, and he goes ’round the back of the car and syphons off the petrol – it was the SS petrol they were drinking!

I was too frightened to say I’m not going to drink it.  I was quite convinced I was going to be done to death.  “Here’s to freedom!” they said, and I drank the petrol.  The funny thing is, it never had any effect.  My stomach was so seized up because I was frightened,  that I could have drunk sulphuric acid and it would have passed through.  Later on, when some sort of control was exercised all these guys were rounded up

The Americans were slap-happy.  They were front line troops.

I saw two of them shoot themselves in the stomach, right in front of me.  The whole thing was hell – it was like Dante’s Inferno.  I went out with them as a sort of unofficial interpreter, with this 3rd Infantry Division.   Things were still pretty dicey.  They were still running into pockets of Germans who were fighting and in a rough and ready way they vetted everyone.

One day I was sitting up near Berchtesgaden, in this jeep. (3)   You know how these Yanks have always got these big cigars?  It is true what you see on the pictures – Yanks were like that.  This guy was sitting in his jeep, sprawled back, his feet up on the windscreen, smoking this big cigar, and he said to me “Well Mr Englishman, whadya think of the American army?”  I didn’t know what to say.  I was quite horrified, to be honest.  While I was thinking what to say he said “You don’t have to worry.  I’ll tell you something boy – half these geysers I’ve got under me,”  he said  “they were playing with guns when they were still in nappies.  They were always shooting each other way back in the States – so it don’t make no difference.”  I began to think, Christ…   He was some executive in the Pennsylvanian Railroad.  Quite a nice guy.  He said “Don’t worry about them.”  But I did, all the same.

After a time I was given a pass and flown back to England.  Coming home finished me off altogether.  I finished up four months in a mental home.  I had such a colossal nervous breakdown, and I’ve been nervy ever since.  I couldn’t cope with it all, at all.  The end of the war for me was worse than the war itself, in a peculiar personal way.  I just couldn’t cope.  I was thinking in terms of committing suicide.

1.   Plaistow, East London.

2.   Half a hundredweight (UK) equals approx. 25 kg.

3.   Berchtesgaden is a small town in the Bavarian Alps, 30 km south of Salzburg.  It is particularly associated with Hitler’s Berghof and his Kehlsteinhaus – the “Eagle’s Nest”.

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