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.