They Do Without
In Britain smokes are scarce, pants are shiny, paper is precious, but entertainment boosts morale
FLOYD S. CHALMERS
ONE DAY last winter, in London, a friend of mine invited me to have dinner with him at his flat, No. 65a Sloane Square.
I scribbled the address on a slip of paper. A week later, when the date arrived, the paper was worn ragged and the little “a” had been rubbed off. 1 went to Sloane Square, hunted up No. 65 with my flashlight, rang the doorbell and waited. Nothing happened. I banged the knocker and pounded on the door. Still nothing happened.
Then I began ringing other doorbells in the neighborhood and eventually found a woman who looked at me in astonishment and said, “There is no 65 now; it was blitzed out six months ago.” J assured her there was a 65. I had seen the big 65 on the door. She gave me a queer look and hurriedly shut the door.
I went back to the house and started examining it with my flashlight. That quickly produced a
policeman who put a stop to my suspicious-looking activities. But he helped clear up the mystery. The doorway, and the arch that supported it, were indeed there, and the number 65 was there, too. But the house was gone. I had been knocking on the door of a house that wasn’t there.
In due course I got my dinner, but Pot until I had kept my host waiting more than an hour.
The incident wasn’t important except as evidence of how black the blackout is in London on dark, moonless nights.
People in Britain are getting a little bored with the blackout. But it is among the least of the things they put up with in'their effort to achieve the reality of a total effort for total war.
The things they do without, in order to save ships, save materials and save machines and men, are countless. Their shops carry very restricted lines of merchandise. I always use an English diary.
I went into one of the smartest shops on New Bond Street to buy a 1942 diary. They hadn’t any; the small quantity allotted to them had been quickly sold out. But they offered me a 1941 diary. “The days of the week are wrong but the rest of the diary is just as good,” they assured me.
That was indeed a lesson in conservation, and an example of how a nation can do without things when it really wants to.
When I got home, after crossing the midwinter Atlantic on an ex-banana boat (now a bacon boat), my wife asked me why, for heaven’s sake, I wore my summer underwear; why hadn’t I bought some long-legged “woollies.” I had to confess that the Government had been most kind to me; they had given me four months’ clothing coupons which I had promptly blown in on two shirts, a couple of collars, some handkerchiefs and a tie.
When Dorothy Thompson was invited to meet the Queen she had to get through to the President of the Board of Trade before she could get enough additional coupons to buy a pair of black capeskin gloves. He would no doubt have let me buy woollens if I wanted them. But the Government had allowed me more than my share of the limited supplies of clothing that the British people still make, and I had no intention of asking for more.
Trifling incidents like those brought home to me in Britain the character of the sacrifices freely and willingly made by the British people to strengthen the country’s war effort.
At lunch one day I sat with two well-to-do men from the “City.” We were discussing the rationing of clothes. They began to compare the relative degree of shine on their trousers. One of them proudly exhibited a slightly frayed cuff as evidence that he was the more fashionably dressed.
Life in Britain has become very much a matter of “doing without.”
The average man in Britain has to forage for cigarettes. Each morning in London I would walk along Piccadilly to MacLean’s London office. I would drop into a tobacco shop for my day’s “ration” of cigarettes. The elderly saleslady—the young ones are all in the fighting services and the war plants—would pass me a large boxful. I would extract ten of them, loose, and put them in my case. There was always a little queue lining up for these fags. By half past nine all were sold and the shop closed for the day.
The wealthy man forages for cigars. Here is a typical want ad, one of a dozen or so like it on the front page of the Timet:
“Havana Cigars (good condition). Smoker
requires to purchase for cash.”
The saddest spot in the British Isles is Scotland. Reason: shortage of “whusky.” I spent several days in Scotland. In restaurants, hotels and on trains I heard a dozen people ask. for a glass of Scotch. Not one was able to get it. There were a couple of bad hits in the blitz of last spring, one on a distillery near Glasgow and one near Edinburgh, that between them destroyed a couple of million gallons of whisky. The fires burned for days while thirsty Scots wept. But the main reason for the shortage of whisky is that Scotch is something that can be turned into foreign currency, particularly American and Canadian dollars needed to pay for food, raw materials and weapons. Scotch whisky has become a tool of war, and so the Government controls the supplies to the people at home.
IF THE Briton has to “do without” many of the things he was accustomed to enjoy in peacetime days, it is not only because the war has put such a load on supplies of raw materials, shipping and transport and on factories. The “limitation of supplies” has gone beyond the urgent dictates of such war priorities. It has become, by deliberate design, part of Britain’s battle against inflation.
Britain has to find about twelve million pounds sterling every day to pay the war bills. It is able to raise about six million pounds a day in taxation.
Continued on page 33
Continued from page 10
But even after this greatly increased taxation has been taken out of the payrolls and other incomes of the people there remains a national income that bulges unevenly in spots.
Factory and farm workers, for example, are enjoying larger incomes, even after taxes, than most of them received before the war. If all these new incomes were spent by the people, getting them; if they were poured into the markets to buy up the smaller quantities of goods and supplies that areavailable, it would be impossible to keep prices in control. It would be a case of first come, first served; and the inflationary tide would burst forth to overwhelm and destroy the Government’s financial program.
By limitation of supplies the Government makes spending difficult and thus ensures the successif its program of selling War Savings Certificates and Defense Bonds. Limitation of supplies must be accompanied by a “share-and-share-alike” plan of rationing of supplies if it is to be fair. Hence, for example, clothing coupons.
The Government has worked out the amounts of woollen, cotton and other materials—and the amount of machinery and labor to convert them —that can be released for clothing the civilian population without doing injury to the war effort. Then, to ensure even distribution, it has given everyone an equal number of coupons to cover a year’s purchases. Whenever clothing is bought, some of these coupons must be surrendered to the merchant. The number of coupons up to now has been sixty-six; it has just been reduced to fifty-one, although people doing heavy work and children (who grow out of clothes) will get ten more.
The fifty-one coupons will not go far. One year’s supply would cover these articles for a man or a woman:
1 suit of underwear
1 pair socks
1 pair boots
1 plain coat
2 pairs stockings
1 pair shoes
1 pair gloves
There are a lot of essential articles fo dress missing from those lists. Apparently they have to be bought the next year.
Rationing is accompanied by price control of most items of goods to prevent exploitation of the consumer.
The restrictions on paper are also typical. There will be no more Christmas cards or greeting cards; no more paper handkerchiefs or serviettes; no more directories, guide-
books, etc. If you buy a shirt in a shop, you have to take it away without a wrapping. Only foodstuffs and delivered parcels may be wrapped, and they may not have a label on them.
London theatres will be allowed only ten posters apiece; no more. And the posters will be pint size.
Some newspapers asked, though, why the Government did not begin its paper-salvage campaign with some of the government offices. There has been no diminution of the British Civil Service fascination with forms. I filled out the forms necessary to get my exit permit; they were printed in very large type on heavy, expensive paper and I had to use four. I had the messing officer of a Canadian unit in to see me one morning. He had a few Imperial troops posted with him for rations for a few days, and had to collect thirteen shillings, sixpence, from the War Office to pay for certain “extras.” He had to fill out twelve forms to send in. Heaven knows how much more paper will be used inside the War Office before the thirteen shillings, sixpence, is finally paid.
There are still chocolate-vending machines in the tube stations, but any that I saw were empty. A few sweets are available at a fixed fifteen per cent over prewar price. Empty also are thousands of cigarettevending machines. No doubt the Ministry of Supply will one day melt them up for planes and tanks.
There is not too much glass in the windows. Many houses and public buildings have replaced shattered glass with fibreboard which meets two problems at one and the same time—the glass shortage and the blacking out .at night. If a shop window is broken, it is generally replaced with building board, with a large peephole of glass in the centre.
EVEN transportation facilities are in reduced “supply.”
Taxis are none too plentiful. The younger men have gone to war and the taxi drivers are almost all greyhaired men. They find it difficult to stand the strain of night driving in the blackout. If you live outside the very central district of London they are likely to refuse to accept your fare unless you hint at a double tip.
The tubes run regularly, but they are always crowded. The buses taper off after seven o’clock and staying out late may mean missing your bus.
All these night problems in transportation have got Londoners into the habit of going home earlier than usual. The theatres conform. The stage plays usually begin at 5.45 or 6. The last show at the big cinemas starts not later than 7.30.
There is little opportunity for travel. Last summer there were large crowds at the seaside resorts, I was told, although some of these are now in prohibited defense areas. But the Government has just announced that it is going to curtail all such week-end or holiday travel. Hotels and resorts in the interior of the country are
pretty well-filled with evacuee children from London and other large cities; or are occupied by government offices— such as the Ministry of Food and the Board of Education—crowded out of London by the growth of wartime departments.
The ABC and Bradshaw’s (England’s famous railway timetables) seem to be as thick as ever, but one finds that the “passenger” traffic on the railways consists to an astonishing degree of uniformed men and women, either on leave or moving in groups from one area to another. The old “lifts” connecting Waterloo station with the underground were replaced just before the war with an enormous new escalator. I never rode on this escalator at any time of the day or night without jostling my way to the top or bottom of it in the midst of a boiling kettle of good-natured soldiers, sailors, WAAF’s, WREN’s and ATS.
At Christmastime, the Government had to prohibit travel by soldiers and sailors in order that the railways could handle the traffic.
Restaurant cars have been taken off most of the trains, and the number of sleeping cars has been so drastically reduced that it is next thing to impossible for an ordinary civilian, not engaged in important government business, to get a booking.
The maintenance of national morale is recognized by the Government as an essential factor in winning the war. Entertainment is regarded not as a luxury but as a necessity. Except for theatres that have been blitzed, the cinemas, the music halls and the legitimate theatres are going all-out. I went to several shows in New York before going to London. The London productions were more lavishly staged; the music was better and the comedy brighter.
In the factory towns—and particularly in the spots where huge new war plants have been built in areas isolated from theatres and cinemas— the workers show a great deal of ingenuity in providing their own entertainment. They have organized revue companies and dug up an amazing amount of fresh amateur talent. I was in one typical ordnance factory, employing about 5,000 women and about half that many men. It is located in the dreary suburb of one of Britain’s industrial cities. Most of the workers in the plant have to travel many miles from their homes to their jobs. There are numerous cases where girls in war factories spend an average twelve to fifteen hours a day away from their homes, including well 'over an hour each way in travel. There is little opportunity for such workers, on a six-day week, to find entertainment outside. So they provide their own entertainment, or it is brought to them in the factories.
In this plant the workers get a good hot meal once a day, halfway through their shift. It is served in two large canteens seating over 1,000 workers apiece. There is a large stage at one end of each room, and a revue is put on while the men and women eat their meals. Some of the revues are put on by volunteer, unpaid companies of travelling players who go from factory to factory in
much the same manner that volunteer, unpaid companies of entertainers go from one military camp to another in Canada. These travelling revues are supplemented by the worker’s own shows.
Every day from twelve to one the BBC puts one of these war-workers revues on the air. In the factories where no entertainment has been provided that day loud speakers bring in a show being put on in some other plant. I listened to many of these programs. They were cheery, and were carried on against a background of tumultuous applause.
In one big factory I saw some very fine large color prints of well-known paintings, old and modern. The superintendent explained that they were supplied by the Adult Education Society of Scotland, which changes them weekly and keeps them moving around from factory to factory.
The pictures—like the entertainments—are designed to reduce the factor of boredom, which is the most serious of all deterrents to all-out production.
Such recreational activities are vital when people are working as hard as they are in Britain.
llulbert Turns Bobby
ONE DAY I was driven far out into the country to visit a wellscreened aircraft plant. A Women’s Volunteer Service driver took me. On the way she told me of the evacuated family she cares for in her house and of the many Canadian boys she puts up on their leaves. (Today, as in the last war, all Canadian soldiers head for Scotland on their first long leave.) When she left me she remarked casually that she was going to her office. She puts in six hours a day in a war job, as though driving bothersome journalists, looking after a bombed-out worker’s family, and entertaining Canadian soldier boys on leave was not enough for one hardy little wisp of a Scottish widow.
Her case is typical. Most people who put in less than fifty or sixty hours a week in office or factory have extra jobs—paid or unpaid.
One Sunday morning I dropped into the British Columbia soldiers’ canteen. I saw a “war reserve” policeman at the next table having a cup of coffee. It was Jack Hulbert, | the famous screen star.
I asked the managing director of one of the “Big Four” banks to tell me what he did when his day’s work was done. I found that he spent one night a week fire-watching on the roof of his head-office building. Every Saturday and Sunday he spends as chairman of the agricultural committee of one of the inland counties.
At a reception I met an M.P.—a baronet. He was in Auxiliary Fire Service uniform. The next time 1 saw him he was sitting in the House of Commons in a Home Guard uniform. He has those three jobs at least (and I do not know how many more): AFS, Home Guard and M.P.
Between military service, factory jobs, A.R.P., fire-watching and all the thousand other tedious but vital things that the British people have had to do in the interests of national survival, there is little unused skill or energy in Britain.
I was not in Britain during any of the big air raids. I was not called upon to look on scenes of horror and courage. But I saw many little incidents that were revealing in one way or another.
There was, for instance, the welldressed woman who was down on her knees in Piccadilly Circus. No, she was not praying. But somewhere she had managed to find a jar of plums in syrup, a rare and precious thing. She was hastening along the street with it, taking it home or to a sick friend, when she tripped and dropped the jar. There she was on the sidewalk, picking up the precious
plums one by one and putting them back into the broken remnant of the jar.
I remember the little girl, twelve or thirteen, sitting on the top-tier metal bunk in the underground shelter provided by the busiest tube station in the world—Leicester Square— doing her homework by the raw light of an unshaded lamp bulb in the ceiling while trains roared to a halt and disgorged and embarked thousands of bustling passengers.
Even little things like that seemed to have some relation to “toil, tears and sweat.”