GENERAL ARTICLES

"Bundles for Britain"

A flood tide of U.S. aid is sweeping across the ocean to Britain from the soda jerker, the man at the gas pump, and the girl in the Five-and-Ten

ANTHONY GIBBS August 1 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

"Bundles for Britain"

A flood tide of U.S. aid is sweeping across the ocean to Britain from the soda jerker, the man at the gas pump, and the girl in the Five-and-Ten

ANTHONY GIBBS August 1 1941

"Bundles for Britain"

GENERAL ARTICLES

ANTHONY GIBBS

A flood tide of U.S. aid is sweeping across the ocean to Britain from the soda jerker, the man at the gas pump, and the girl in the Five-and-Ten

THERE IS something going on in these United States which other people, and especially the people of the British Empire, ought to know more about. It has nothing to do with convoys, or airplanes or tanks or guns, or what the President or the senators say or think in Washington. In its way it’s more important, because its vast sum total was not the result of any national decision but was built up, quite independantly of Washington, by the personal decisions of millions of individual Americans. I’m talking about the flood tide of American relief to the people of bombed and beleaguered Britain.

While the instruments of death pour across the Atlantic from the “arsenal of democracy” a parallel stream of the instruments of mercy is flowing from the pockets and the hearts of uncountable men and women and children in the United States who know what the men and women and children of Britain are going through. This is a very big thing. Indeed the mass accumulation of those countless, unimportant, unpublicized proofs of sympathy is quietly reaching such astounding proportions that the President and his advisers might well take note of it as an expression of how the nation feels. As an appreciative Englishman I think it is my duty to tell you about this, and the best way I can do that is to take an example of which I have personal knowledge.

In the state of Massachussetts there is a little town. I won’t tell you the name of it lest I should annoy all the other little towns, but it takes its name from Devonshire, and you may still catch a trace of the Devonshire voice in the way the people talk. It has a big white church at one end of it with a spire which might have been designed by our own Christopher Wren: and a revoltingly ugly building at the other, of liver-colored granite with a green copper roof, which is probably the town hall. There is a green in front of this with a statue of somebody or other and a rusty gun, and between the two runs the usual indeterminate American street, with a lot of untidy-looking cars and untidy shops where you can buy mackinaws and frigidaires and red ankle socks and oil stoves and auto tires

and silk stockings and maple furniture and ice cream.

It is a friendly scei^e. In winter, when the wind whips down from the north and there is snow in the streets under an icy sun, the friendliness is mostly indoors. In summer when there are leaves on the big trees and the sun shines down through them on the white wooden houses, if you stand firmly with your back to the town hall, you’ve no idea how pleasant it is.

There are, I suppose, about ten thousand people living in this place, and most of them, apart from the ones who are skipping about in their mackinaws and red ankle socks, seem to have seamed and kindly faces. The seaming may be due to life in this vast, strenuous American climate with its high winds and its angry changes of temperature, which may drop from ninety degrees to no degrees in a few short days, and climb to sixty again in a few short hours. The kindliness shines out through good blue eyes, in the way of the ancient American tradition of neighborliness, from the American soul. I don’t know where the Americans got this tradition, unless it goes back to pioneer days when nature and the Indians were cruel and distances were great and if a man’s house caught fire or his wife was about to have a baby it was the neighbors and only the neighbors to whom he could turn for help. I do know that the spirit of this is deeply ingrained in the American

character, and that it makes the Americans the most friendly and the most generous people on earth.

Cheerful Givers

XJOWHERE in the world will you find so much good nature, so much warmheartedness, so much cheerful and downright desire to be of help, as you will in this limitless American scene with the broad roads and the vast perspectives, the bustling cities and the lonely farmsteads the small towns and all the ramshackle, tatterdemalion panorama in between. I can speak of this, because all this friendship and this generosity is now directed toward Britain, the neighbor across the sea whose house is afire, whose wife is about to have a baby, and who has sent out a call for help.

As an obvious Englishman I find that I am stopped in the street, buttonholed in shops, even flagged as I drive through in my little English car. Everybody wants to know how things are going over there, whether I have news from home, and to say how anxious they are to do everything they can to help Britain along. They mean it, too. In that little town which I have described they told me how they were trying to raise subscriptions toward the cost of one of the rolling kitchens which the British War Relief Society were hoping to send across the Atlantic to be ready on the spot when people were bombed out of their homes, with a word of American cheer and hot soup and tea.

For a week I heard nothing in that town but news of how the subscriptions were going. When I went to the furniture shop to buy a kitchen table the old gentleman who worked there told me, with tears in his eyes, that his parents were born in Greenwich, that he was proud to think himself an Englishman, that he had already subscribed twice, and sold me the table cheap. It was the same whether I bought a couple of screws, filled up the car, or stopjxxi to pick up a Boston evening paper. Everybody in that town seemed to have given his dollar, or his half dollar, or his pocketful of pennies, and to want to wring the hand of any Englishman who happened along. At the end of the week they invited me to a “little meeting.”

It would be the easiest thing in the world to make fun of that little meeting, and the most ungracious. There was a big barn-like room at the back of the hotel. A raised platform had been put at one end, with six chairs, a table and a glass of water, backed by Old Glory and the Union Jack. About two hundred simple, honest folk sat there in

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stolid rows. A Unitarian minister presided. 1 le cleared his throat, drank a little water, and suggested that we should all sing “God Bless America.” We sang it, facing the flag. Then he suggested “I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad.” We sang that too. Then a lady soprano who had been hovering near the piano was asked if she would “oblige.” She obliged with “I Saw A Maiden Passing By,” and “Come To The Fair.”

After that a little English girl who had been adopted by the town was stood on a ' chair, and recited, in a piping voice and with incredible speed, something about “I call Tomaytoes tomahotes but they call tomahtoes tomaytoes.” The sincerity of these proceedings was absolute. Then a speaker from the war-relief people in Boston rose to his feet and began to harrow everyone with a description of London life under an air raid. As his description unfolded the people began to smile behind their hands. When he passed to a direct appeal for funds toward the purchase of a rolling kitchen they faced him with broad grins.

Those people had already, before he opened his mouth, bought and paid for two rolling kitchens.—Do you know that those things cost nearly two thousand dollars apiece?—Four thousand dollars in one week, from the old gentleman in the furniture shop, the young lady in Woolworth’s, the girl in the cake shop, the boy behind the soda fountain in the drug store, the man who worked the pumps at the filling station down the street, even the old Portuguese lady who sold newspapers. Four thousand dollars !

When I left England a little more than six months ago, most people felt that the attitude of the U.S. toward this war was crucial. Most Englishmen, especially after the fall of France, cherished a feeling in their bones that the great republic of the West, because it had the same sort of ideas as we had and worshipped the same ideals, could never, if things ever came to that point, stand on one side and see England go down into dissolution and defeat. We thought, like this, in general terms. We recognized the figure of the American President as one of the world’s leaders, and we detected from his utterances that he seemed to understand. Occasionally a fleet of American ambulances would appear upon the streets, and we were grateful. We read about the Eagle Squadron in our papers, and of the mighty factories which were going up to take care of British orders for American planes. Again we were grateful, still in I general terms. It was always “America”

! we hojied would come to our aid. It never ¡ occurred to us that we might touch the hearts of individual Americans.

Since those days we have watched “America” go a long way upon the chancy road of “Aid for Britain,” and go with a certain leisurely and grim deliberateness infinitely more impressive than an outburst of warlike emotion. It is like a man

who slowly throws away his cigarette and rolls up his sleeves before stalking over to the affray. In turn have followed the fifty destroyers, the Lend-Lease Bill, the defense of Greenland, and now the sending of warships into submarine-infested waters. This is magnificent, and it may be war. This is what the U. S. is doing.

But I am speaking of the individual American, and that small town which I have described is typical of a hundred thousand other towns. Actually the town of Concord, whose inhabitants will show anybody the place where they personally licked the British in 1776, led the way and still leads in generosity to those they still consider a beaten foe. There are eight thousand jieople in Concord, and they have sent five rolling kitchens, contributed a thousand dollars toward a rescue boat, and made up their contribution in innumerable small ways to the extraordinary total of twelve thousand dollars. No less than forty English children have been brought across the Atlantic and taken into the homes of Concord people.

Meatless Meals

"DUT NOT even Concord could be responsible for the astounding totals which have been received. The fact is that every man in every furniture store and every girl in every cake shop and every man who works every pump at every filling station in every street must have been taking a hand in this business. And nobody seems to know.

Had you any idea, for instance, that in many places all over the United States school children are having one or two meatless meals a week, so that not only can the money saved be sent but something of the feeling obtained of British school children who have many meatless meals? Did you know that some schools are even going without electric light, in a voluntary blackout, for the same reason? Will you believe me when I tell you that there are one-and-a-half-million people here collecting on behalf of one organization alone, which means almost one out of every hundred of the population?

All over this country astonishing things are happening. It is the largest mass demonstration of human sympathy which has ever occurred, and in a world of which half has already collapsed beneath the flapping of a swastika it restores one’s dying faith in the fundamental good intentions of humanity. Co-eds are knitting socks at their lectures and stitching away at things called “Afghans,” after hours. People are getting up plays—thousands of plays—painting their own scenery, making their own costumes, inviting the neighbors, and sending in the proceeds. In some places they are putting a tax on chewing—“Chewing for Britain”—and sending in that.

In others they have a system of fines— fines for buying a new car, fines for not singing in church, fines for swearing, fines for every amiable human weakness, and

that is sent along too. There is not a town in the country which does not have its shop window with the Union Jack and the legend “Bundles for Britain” or “Help the Allies” or “British War Relief.” In every case the premises have been loaned free. I saw one man driving along the other day with the words “Aid for Britain” painted in two-inch high letters on the door of his car. I’ve seen “There’ll always be an England” stickers in car rear windows. Almost everybody will pull out a cigarette case with the Union Jack on it, and half the women one meets seem to be wearing them at the throat, or carrying them on powder compacts or the hundred and one other kinds of feminine gadgets. All the money for those goes to Britain, and incidentally there’s a great deal of good taste in the designs. In the big cities important office accommodation has always been put at the disposal of the various organizations, entirely without cost. Shipping is free. Everything is free, stationery, poster designs, speakers, university lectures, halls, everything.

As for the schools, the most expensive schools in the U.S.A. have thrown their doors wide-open to British children, just as Americans have thrown open their homes. Only the immigrtaion authorities know just how many British children have found new homes in the United States because the enormous majority have come over privately and with no sort of balyhoo. It isn’t any mean sort of responsibility to take over a young life like this, but so many thousands of American families have done it that by now the boys and girls have become one of the familiar and accepted aspects of American family life, and it is impossible to go anywhere without hearing their voices, still English, but with a rapid and confident throwing about of the American idiom.

"A Very Big Thing Indeed”

AS I SAID at the beginning, this is a very big thing indeed. When a nation the size of the United States puts its heart into a matter in the way I have described the results are likely to be surprising. In this case “surprising” is hardly the word. This is so widespread a spontaneous expression of active sympathy, so universal a friendly dip into the pants pocket, that when all the individual acts of generosity and human feeling in all the schools and colleges and homes in all the towns and cities all over the vast extent of this fantastically enormous country are collected and added together, the result is absolutely overwhelming.

Try to imagine if you can, five hundred thousand used garments all in one heap, or sixty thousand pairs of shoes, or the pile of dimes that go to make one million dollars. Think of the sixty thousand people in sixty thousand different places who collected those shoes, and wrapped them

up, and took them round some time to their local branch of “Bundles for Britain.” Think of the millions and millions of little girls and friendly landladies and good-natured truck drivers and earnest musicians and idealistic hoboes and persistent reciters and talkative salesmen who must have made that same gesture of friendship for Britain, to produce these figures.

I beg you to read them—all of them— and to remember that each and every one of those ciphers represents not merely a sign in arithmetic but a multitude of human beings who responded, one by one, each in his own time and in his own way, each in his own heart, to the call from across the world’s biggest tank trap for a little friendliness and a little sympathy.

This is what the “British War Relief Society” has sent to Britain so far, all paid for, remember, with a nickel here and a dime there in the ways I have described.

391 Motor Ambulances.

22 complete X-Ray apparatus.

10.000 hospital beds and supplies.

5,500 beds, with bedding, for shelters.

10.000 sets of bedding.

60.000 pairs of shoes.

622 mobile kitchens.

144 heavy trucks known as “Queen’s Messengers.”

20.000 cases of medical and other supplies, such as oil stoves, Thermos flasks, hot-water bottles, asbestos gloves.

40.000 parcels per month for British prisoners of war in Germany.

§3,000,000 in cash.

Add this up, and you get nine-and-ahalf-million dollars.

These things are not sent at whim or random. Most of them are rushed to Britain after telephone calls from an American committee in London, composed of businessmen who have made it their job to find what is wanted and to ask for it on the phone. The twenty-two X-Ray apparatus mentioned and 50,000 aspirin tablets were thus specifically asked for and were on the high seas on that very day. Within minutes of the news of the last allout blitz raid on London and while the raid was still on, one hundred thousand dollars had been cabled for the relief of suffering in that very raid.

Those American businessmen in London are acting purely as a self-constituted committee, entirely free. They are simply men who, like the British, are carrying on with their jobs in spite of the bombs. Many of them have been blown out of their offices two and three times. Like the British who find time after hours for snuffing out incendiaries and spotting planes from the roof and doing heroic things putting out fantastic fires and digging for the dead, these friendly Americans are making it their extra job to see to it that the sixty cents from the

gasoline attendant at Lansing, Mich., and the two thousand dollars from the schoolboys of Milton Academy, Mass., and the nickel from the old Portuguese lady who sells papers, go where they are really needed.

5(X),(XX) used garments.

6,(XX) air-raid shelter cots.

fiO.CXX) pairs of shoes.

50.000 sweaters.

50.000 pairs of socks.

24 ambulances.

59 mobile canteens.

21 X-Ray machines.

$3,(XX),(XX) in cash.

It is Mrs. Winston Churchill who advises from London on the immediate needs of the moment for “Bundles.”

Here are incomplete figures for the American Red Cross whose 3,700 branches have been sending supplies to Britain at the rate of approximitely twenty-three shipments a month:

$13,000,000 spent for British war relief.

5,(XX),(XX) garments knitted.

3,200,000 garments sewn.

21,000,000 surgical dressings.

15,000 pints of blood.

Fifteen thousand pints of blood—after that last item comment would be unworthy.