LONDON LETTER

England Invades Herself

Beverley Baxter December 15 1939
LONDON LETTER

England Invades Herself

Beverley Baxter December 15 1939

England Invades Herself

LONDON LETTER

Beverley Baxter's

LONDON, November 21 (By Cable. Passed by censor). “What will happen after the war?” That is a question which shares the place of honor with its twin, “When will the war begin?” People say, without knowing what they mean, “Things will never be the same again.” They shake their heads and imply that there will be a total eclipse—no sun, no moon, all dark.

The Socialists in Great Britain, who are straining every sinew in prosecution of the war, believe their day will come when the fighting ends; that wartime annihilation of wealth and privilege will bring about a social and economic revolution which will carry them at last to power. Their tactical position is a strong one. “We are without reproach,” they say. “We did not land the country into this war. The Tories did. But when war came, we rallied like one man to the national cause. We did not even take office in the wartime government, but were content to do our bit in humble but constructive opposition.”

* You cannot blame the Socialists for looking ahead as a party. Government must go on though the heavens fall. By remaining outside the Government, yet giving splendid and loyal support to the war effort, they will be able to share the prestige of victory without having incurred any of the resentment caused by the exasperations of wartime legislation.

Sir Samuel l loare said to me the other day, “Keep a spot of pity for the ministers who are in power when war begins. They have to face the great change-over from a peace to a war basis. They have to take the brunt of all the criticism and all the anxieties inseparable from the opening stages of war. They have to do the spade work, knowing that sooner or later an impatient public, not knowing the difficulties, will demand a more vigorous leadership in prosecution of the struggle.”

That is the position of the Conservatives as the partyin power. But what of the Conservative voters throughout the country—the rich middle class, the gentlefolk, the hereditary aristocracy, the owners of big estates, retired colonels, and all those whose incomes and social position permit them to own some kind of a place in the country and send their sons to those exclusive private schools called public?

I know it is not fashionable these days to speak well of the rich. Any spouter on Hyde Park Corner can tell you that the man who earns more than a bare living wage is an exploiter of labor and a parasite on the body politic. Unfortunately, I have never believed the deepest wisdom lies in these catch phrases memorized with mechanical effort and shouted with spurious passion. Let me put it on record that the gentle families of Britain, if you will accept that description to save space, have risen magnificently to meet the war, just as they did in 1914.

We have conscription, and the calling up is done by age classifications. It is a grand system, and working splendidly, but the old families have not waited for that process. Their sons have simply gone from civilian clothes to military uniforms with no more fuss than they would have changed for dinner after a game of golf. It is true they have joined crack regiments like the Grenadiers and the Coldstream and Irish Guards, but anyone who joins that brigade knows that when Hell breaks loose at the front the Guards are for it. These young fellows do not question the Fates nor pose as heroes. The country is at war, and as they have done for generations, they walk out in the sunlight of their youth because they are heirs to tradition.

Perhaps you ask at this point, “What about the poor who have no stake in the country, yet give their lives to save it?” My only answer is they are beyond praise. The heroism and selflessness of the ordinary workingman in

the grip of war is enough to make one spiritually humble for life.

Will “Ruling Classes” Survive?

"DUT THE purpose of this letter is to make a study of what are called the “ruling classes,” and to estimate if possible the likelihood or the extent of their survival.

Financially, they are being treated with ruthlessness. In his first war budget. Sir John Simon came down to the House and with complete blandness announced the following edicts. (1) He proposed to increase the income tax supertax to such a level that those with the largest incomes would be permitted to retain three shillings in the pound for their own use. With this balance they would be able to pay local rates and such indirect taxation as might be determined upon. (2) For those of us whose incomes do not reach such dizzy heights the thumbscrew would be turned less violently. The income tax supertax would not take more than ten to thirteen shillings of each pound, according to which level we belonged. (3) Increases to be retroactive so that on January 1st, 1940, we would be exacted to pay up at the new rate. (4) By taxing luxuries and collecting such an increase in direct taxation, normal purchases would be discouraged and the full effort of industry concentrated on war production.

There was hardly a protest except from bankers who

thought the budget too severe, and who realized it would create severe hardship and unemployment among the middle classes. But the victims themselves, the big and little Tory families, uttered never a word. Somehow, by selling this or that, by giving up clubs, by closing their town houses, by using bicycles instead of cars, by cutting out that glass of port at dinner and relegating cigars to the limbo of far off, forgotten tilings, they would meet the Chancellor’s bill next year. More than one hawknosed dowager, with nothing but her trinkets and her memories, took the gold wristlet which Charlie Swashbuckler, of the Bengal Lancers, gave her on that wonderful day at Poona when he was knocked senseless stopping a jxilo ball with his head—took it and sold it in exchange for pound notes to give to Simon.

No matter how remote, how grand or tumble-down the country house, the ghostly step of the Chancellor haunts the ancestral halls. 1 lis skinny finger points to the owners. “Give me your gold, and remember, if you die, your heirs will have to sell the place to pay death duties which I shall demand. So look alive and keep alive it you know what’s g(xxi for you.”

It isn’t easy for His Lordship not to be able to give the same sum as last year to the Vicar’s collection, nor can he bring himself to turn out old Simkins, the groom, even if he has to let the horses go.

Strangely enough, I have had the feeling perhaps it was this way many years ago in the South, when the Confederate forces were contesting every inch with Lincoln’s armies of the North. There is a certain similarity between these English and the Southerners—an unspoken pride; a deep, pervading sense of duty; certainly more than a touch of arrogance. If they disappear, something splendid and irreplaceable will have gone from life.

“Revolution” in England

BUT IT must not be imagined that the Chancellor’s ghost has been the only intruder on the English countryside. The pen of Dickens is needed to describe the social revolution that has taken place with the evacuation of tens of thousands of children from London and other danger areas to stately country houses where man and wife who have lived in proud loneliness—and it can be cruel loneliness in the English countryside—have witnessed the Pied Piper of Whitehall leading children from Whitechapel up the driveway into the very courtyard.

In a single gesture the legend that an Englishman’s home is his castle has been thrown out of the window. Sir Roger and Lady Buzful, who have prided themselves on never having asked the Smith-Pugglingtons into their home, now find themselves acting host and hostess to Mrs. Henry Hawkins and eight little Hawkinses from Stepney. Mr. Hawkins has been left behind to continue working, taking barrow to market. The children are dirty and exuberant. Poor little devils, they are alive with high spirits and other things. In short, they are filthy, and they like it. Poor Lady Buzful sees them jumping on her cushions, dirtying them with hands generally giving a good indication of the shape of things to come.

Mrs. Hawkins reveals herself as an admirable breeder but an indifferent mother. She is a good-natured soul; likes her pint of bitter, or even a spot of gin on Bank Holidays. She has lived her life in crowded slums, and therefore the quiet of the countryside is not to her liking. What’s more, as she proudly says, she is a woman, and a woman ought to have her mate with her. “And wots he doing of back ’ome on ’is own? I betcher a tanner he will ’ave ’igh jinks on a Saturday night if I ain’t there to look after him.”

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Lady Buzful looks with horror at her own mate. His face is pale and grim. If only he were thirty years younger he could rejoin his brigade and get killed at the front. Bad luck, damme, to be a crock at a time like this.

I have drawn a cruel picture, but, believe me, not a false one. And if the natural instinct is to shout that the whole thing is jolly good business and one that will do both sides a lot of good, let me confess I agree. But also let me admit that I can find some pity for the poor, stiffnecked Buzful and his decent, pretentious wife. To suffer an invasion in the autumn of your life; to turn your sanctuary into a hostelry; to give beti and lodging to poor little children who recognize no difference between house and stable, is not a matter for hilarity, yet 1 admit a certain ironicjustice about it. We are seeing an unconscious revenge for the industrial revolution of last century. Many of these great country houses were built on the sweated labor of workers who lived in noisome slums. We have done much to end that stigma, but there still are slums that are a reproach to Britain’s name. Now the noisy, dirty, exuberant inhabitants of these wretched places have become an invading army of innocent revenge.

Nor is it true that the poor have all the virtues and the rich all the vices. The women of the slums in too many cases have mistaken the evacuation for a Bank Holiday visit. Having worked hard all their lives, they now refuse to do anything, and play the role of guests with a sort of music hall elegance. Again there is a measure of ironic justice. But one need not stress the reaction in the bountiful breast of Lady Buzful.

That is one side of the picture. There is another and more pleasant one. Some of the happiest homes in England today are

those where children have come to till the empty hearts of men and women whose own children have grown up, or where there

have never been children at all. Already

these* 1 * hosts are looking forward with sadness to the day when the towns will

recall the little émigrés. Anywhere on

the countryside you can see some old squire who used to ride to hounds, leading a pack of shouting Cockney children in a rabbit hunt or in chase of squirrels. He roars with laughter as the Cockney wit of these miniature Sam Wellers makes incessant comment on it all. The pallid little youngsters are seeing the royal tapestry of the woods, the dancing streams and windswept skies. They, too, are heirs to England, and have at last come into their own. Color is appearing in their cheeks. Their eyes shine with the wonder of it

all. Somewhere in the process the miserable curse of snobbery, the class consciousness of the poor as well as the rich, is disappearing into the November mists. Snobbery will not die completely, and will have sporadic revivals. Nevertheless, this war has struck it a heavy

blow’. For reasons that are difficult to explain, conscription has done away with the aristocratic convention that officers are made of different flesh from the men in the ranks. Discipline still is maintained, but privates, non-commissioned officers and officers are now seen in the streets and restaurants together. Last week, an officer of the old school turned up at a fashionable restaurant. A few tables away, two Tommies were having dinner. The officer sent for the maître d’hôtel and suggested the privates should be asked to leave. The maître d'hôlel refused. He said, “They are very good customers of mine. One is Lord Soandso, and the other was a director of one of the banks. If you cannot eat in thenpresence, sir, you will have to

go.” Hore-Belisha has issued instructions that officers cannot join a club unless they first ascertain that privates are not debarred from

membership. Thus, another English revolution. Its consequences will go down through the ages. Perhaps a greater England than has ever been will emerge from this war of scientific horror launched by a sign painter who imagined himself an

emperor. Meantime, the joyous Cockney accents of Whitechapel and Seven Dials echo and re-echo in the sylvan glades of rural