The Burden Grows
"The future is dim . . . but the people go dourly and doggedly on . . . fuller of fight than ever"
LONDON, Dec. 22 (By Cable). As I write, the most care-laden Christmas and New Year in living memory and beyond impend for the people of this sorely tried Island. Before them lies a dark and uncharted future lit by only one great beacon —victory. But behind that DOUGLAS REED victory the gloom begins again and none can see through to a clear and sunlit plain.
Like a strait jacket the grip of the war tightens upon the British people and its burdens press always heavier upon their shoulders. Its insatiable fingers seek out more and more people who might have thought that it would pass them by: consider the Macabre story of the three lighthouse keepers trapped in their lonely tower who saw a floating mine bobbing and bobbing toward them and could do nothing either to escape or protect themselves, but could only wait until it hit the lighthouse and exploded so that one was killed and another badly hurt.
The Four Horsemen are knocking at the doors of every home. Families, betrothals and friendships are being split, and men and women linked by ties of kinship or pledge are being torn apart and scattered over the world.
Hunger is not the heaviest care—there is none. Few people here will eat turkey or even chicken this Christmas, but none will want. I for my part shall fare better than most, because a Canadian readei —to whom my warmest thanks— sent me a most unexpected parcel. Not even the casualty lists weigh very heavily upon the public mind; the great slaughter has hardly begun for Britain, and hope fighting against hope prays that it never will.
The heaviest cares are those of the spirit. What will come of it all? When will the future open out again, clear and calculable, a charted fate? That vision is denied. The present brings only backbreaking taxes, the unending blackout, the breaking up of families, the ruination of careers—and the prospect of worse to come. The stranglehold of the war for the second time in a generation grows ever tighter.
Yesterday in London—do I dream? the Duke of Wellington died. “Arthur Charles Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, Marquess of Wellington, Marquess Douro, Earl of Wellington, Viscount Wellesley and Viscount Wellington, of Talavera, Earl of Mornington and Baron Mornington, Baron Douro Prince of Waterloo; in the Netherlands, Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo and a Grandee of the First Class; in Spain,DukeofVittoria and Marquess of Torres Vedras, and Count of Vimeira in Portugal.” No, I do not dream. This was the fourth descendant of the great soldier whose liberation of Europe is commemorated in these majestic titles. In 1914 we had to do it all over again and now in 1941 we are having to do it all over again.
A TERRIBLE legacy this generation of Britons has inherited. The only one of the political promises ever made to it which has been fulfilled is that which Mr. Churchill made when he took up the onerous task he had tried to make unnecessary. “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat.”
The military age has been raised from forty-one to fifty. It may yet be raised, Mr. Churchill hints, to sixty. Men of forty who have been discharged as officers during this war on the ground of advancing age are liable to be called back again—as privates. Men who fought in the last war as officers are liable
to go again—as privates to be drilled on the barracks square, to sit in orderly rooms and tidy up dormitories. Most of them are men who, after lean and bitter years following the last war, fought and struggled through to steady livelihoods or high Dositions now all gone. In every other country I know a man always retains the highest rank he previously acquired by merit or valor, and automatically resumes it if he is called again. But not in this Island. They are to come before boards of officials, who themselves perhaps never knew a battle, and be put into battledress to perform menial or trivial tasks. And afterward—they think with a chilly shudder of the years after the last war.
Unmarried women, up to thirty for the present, are to be conscripted. Women Members of Parliament are even pressing for this compulsion to be extended to unmarried mothers and to married women separated from their husbands.
The strait jacket and the strangle hold tighten in the name of patriotism. It seems some people seek only to set one group of the people against another, to inflame jealousies and envy. The conscription of women, to the best of my knowledge, is a measure going farther than any taken even in the dictatorship countries.
These are terribly heavy burdens which are being put on the shoulders of the British people, and they seem to be only a beginning, yet there is no complaint. The people go dourly and doggedly on. The only light they can see in the future is that of victory, and they are determined at least to reach that. They are becoming more silent, more harassed, but they are fuller of fight than ever. The thing that chiefly oppresses them is the knowledge of the inequalities and injustices of the system in the working. A flame of enthusiasm would run through this Island if these burdens were in reality equally distributed, if all bore their share as all are so often admonished to do. But there are too many thousands of young men still performing “vital war work” in becushioned ease in the ministries and offices, too many favorites of fortune doing well in the midst of bitter hardship for the people to be able to feel this.
The men now to be torn from their hard-won careers and their families on the threshold of their old age will not feel bitter about the munition workers in this war as they did in the last, even though many of these be their own sons. They know that the machines are all-important and must be made. But the iron will eat into their souls when they see Mr. Next Door, who did not serve at all in 1914-1918, strutting about in the uniform of a major in the Home Guard; or Mr. Carefree, the popular young band leader whose exemption is so vital to our “war effort,” going gaily to his concert at Broadcasting House; or the great band of “black marketers” of all ages, but all seemingly immune from war service, making merry in the hotels and restaurants and night clubs of London.
Canadian readers will discern that the bitter cares of patriotic and hard-working men in this country are chiefly related to the home front. About the war they are as confident and resolute as ever.
At Last—We Attack
THE WAR, as 1941 drew to its close, was going well. The Japanese attack was far more successful, in its opening stages at all events, than people had hoped but they do not care about that. They are ready to take on all comers and beat them. Otherwise the picture of the war was changing distinctly in our favor, as I have always written in these articles that it would around this time. When I last wrote for Maclean’s I told of the largely inarticulate but urgent longing of the people here for us to attack while the Russians werestill fighting. Their instinct told them that a more favorable moment would never offer. They did not want a full-scale invasion of Europe, they know that to be beyond our strength at present. But they wanted to hit enemy hard somewhere— in Norway, in Libya, in Italy—no matter where but somewhere.
Hardly had I posted that article when we attacked in Libya. We did not smash the enemy
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The Burden Grows
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in “two hours” as Mr. Churchill hoped and we were not, as the military hoped, distinctly superior to the enemy in arms and equipment for the first time. We made prisoners but we also lost prisoners, we smashed tanksand hadtankssmashed, we took some positions and lost others. The Germans proved to have a heavier gun mounted on their
tanks than we had bargained for, and their repair organization set damaged tanks in action again more quickly than we had reckoned with. Once more we seemed to have been overoptimistic in our calculations, and a shiver of hope denied ran through the country. But if not after two hours at any rate after three weeks we were moving forward, and
by the time Canadian readers see this article we may yet have bitten deep into Libya and hit General Rommel’s powerful .4 frika korps very hard.
The chief, the glorious thing was that we were attacking and moving forward at last. On top of that came the superb Russian recovery, the best and most unexpected Christmas gift we ever had, which has already led to the dismissal of German Field Marshal Bock. To add to that came the amazing attack on the Nazi regime of the protestant Bishop of Wuerttemberg and the increasing signs of active uprising against the Germans in the conquered countries of Europe. The portents were clear, we were turning the coiner. Inside Germany I discerned equally clear indications that the German generals and their powerful backers were preparing for the day when Hitler should be tactically repudiated and some nonentity put forward to clear tht‘ ground for some kind of peace which, as they hoped, would leave ( ¡ermany strong enough to rearm and start, again in a few years time.
Then came the Japanese blow, in this Island all expected and none fcart'd it. It. is too early as 1 write to see how much it has retarded our chances of victory, how far it will prolong the war. Nobody here fears for the ultimate result, but the initial successes scored by the Japanese reached the dimensions of a disaster for us. The stupefying thing was the extent of the first Japanese success in the attack on the American naval bases in the Pacific. The general feeling here is that this revealed a state of unalertness and unreadiness which makes even our own past omissions and blunders seem trivial.
But hard on the heels of the Pearl Harbor news came the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse. This was disaster and inexplicable disaster. Fortunately this country can take disaster on the chin and fight back. But it loves its great ships, for it knows that the sea is its life blood and it takes such news harder than grave tidings on land. The thing was so unexpected, so incomprehensible.
Some of the hits scored on these two ships were made with bombs dropped from Japanese aircraft flying at great heights 15,000 feet or more. This was precision bombing of a kind never known and hitherto thought impossible save by luck. Others were made by torpedoes launched from low-flying aircraft. But no comparable exploit had been performed by our own or any other torpedocarrying aircraft save for the hits obtained by aircraft of the British Navy on ships in harbor at Taranto.
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This was something new in skill, in determination, and once more we had to pay a bitter price. Well, we have paid and once again we shall set to to learn and master this new danger. We learn slowly and the man at home needs ever and again to gulp down the news of staggering misfortune, set his teeth and turn once more doggedly toward the future. The top of the hill seemed to be in sight it has proved to be a false summit and, bending our hacks to an increasing load, we must start again toiling upward.
The Fronts Are Clear
UUT THE United States is in and can now brook no further delays. The fronts of the world war are clear at last. The world is ablaze almost from end to end. Now that Japan is in, and her chief adversary proves once more in the history of this fantastic war to have been caught napping, we shall have to pay a further heavy price in blood and treasure and suffering for past remissness. This battled little Island must still bear the brunt for long enough to come. Its burdens are appalling and the lack of that clear goal beyond victory —firm faith in the future after the war has been won makes them doubly heavy. But the evils of the day are sufficient.
Gradually the entire population is being caught up into the war machine. All the men are going and now the women too. Behind the little garage around the corner of Mr. Everyman’s street, bomb parts and gun parts are being turned on the lathes. The dark stations and the chilly trains long before dawn and long after dusk are packed with the men and women going to or coming from their long day’s work in the arms factories. The invader still lies within a grasshopper’s spring of our coasts. Our men are fighting or waiting to fight all over the world from Iceland to Hong Kong, from Skegness to Singapore, from Persia to Peshawar, from Syria to Cirenaica.
Our Navy, which never in its century-old story had such a mighty task as this to master, and never in all that time achieved so flawless a record surpassing even the achievements of the German armies on land, is stretched from Bole to Bole. Here men and women in their youthful maturity are fading from the scene. The very young or the ageing predominate. Everywhere by night and day the wheels revolve and the furnaces roar. And the burden grows and grows.
A few hours ago I heard Hitler’s voice for the first time for many months. It has not changed. Twenty days before the end of the year 1941, in which he had promised his people “final victory,” he presented them with the world war which, as they know in their hearts, means incalculable hardship, unlimited bloodshed, endless suffering and ultimate defeat. His stooges in the Reichstag cheered as jubilantly as ever. Outside the Reichstag the German people are irrevocably harnessed to his war machine. Japan has given him a brief new lease of life. And all our burdens grow.
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