DAY BY DAY the newspapers record the ebb and flow of the battle. The Russians attack, the Germans strike back. Ships are sunk and U-boats destroyed. Our bombers carry death and horror to Germany while the German planes come here under cloud cover and machine-gun the people on a village street.
In nearly every town and city in Britain there are devastated houses, a mere collection of rubble where once a house or cottage had been. They are
Yet I often wonder if we give enough thought to the ruined homes which have been untouched by enemy bombs. To me it is so serious that in this letter I want to clear my own thoughts about a subject which is almost as important as the result of the war.
You in Canada are experiencing something of the same problem. Husbands and sons have crossed the seas and will not return to their own country until the war is over. But the difference between Canada and Britain is that you have been able to keep your homes intact, a shrine to which the thoughts and yearnings of your men overseas turn as to a fixed star.
Every Sunday evening at the Beaver Club in London I conduct a “World Events” hour for Canadian service men. It is the happiest hour of the week for me. As each lad takes part in the discussions he tells where he is from. “Moose Jaw, Hamilton, Calgary, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal.” The old familiar names come out with a special note of affection for behind the name of the city or town is the memory of the home which will be there when they return. It is a nostalgic hour for all of us. Canada—and home.
Here in Britain the picture is altogether different. It is true that our casualties are small compared to the last war. Yet how much kindlier and more human was life then for those in Britain.
The men in France came back on leave to homes which were untouched by enemy action or by anything else. I do not mean that there was not the legacy of infidelities which are inseparable from war but the treadmill of the divorce courts at any time would indicate that a percentage of these would have resulted with or without a war. But in the broad sense the homes of Britain remained intact and the soldiers on leave refreshed their weary bodies and souls in the beloved sanctuary which they had kept in their dreams.
How tragically different it has been this time. The moment that war was declared the first onslaught was launched against the family life of the nation. And what is a nation’s strength, what is a nation’s soul but the family which shares its hopes and joys and fears and loyalties until time dissolves it into memory?
No one is to blame for what has happened. It had to be. Because the civilized world allowed this evil creature Hitler to impose his willon humanity, humanity has to pay the price. Only now are we seeing the extent of that price—and as I said, it is not only in the demolished houses that scar the
the scars of war, they are the wounds of the most cruel struggle of all time. towns, and cities all across England.
The first move was to evacuate the children to safe areas. To this day London is almost a childless city. In the central parks there is no longer the perambulator parade, few little chaps hanging to the handle of the pram pretending to push it, few children tossing balls to be chased by dogs to whom such sport is the very ecstasy of their existence.
It was comforting for the parents to know that their children were safe —comforting but at the price of the
THE next step was to send thousands of civil servants with their departments to prearranged places. Dozens of hotels in far-off towns were taken over by the Government to accommodate the men and women clerks of the civil service.
In the case of married people an immediate problem arose. On a small income they had their little homes in the suburbs of London. Every evening the man caught the same train home and every morning he took the same train to town. That part of his life was like clockwork but once he was home there was that little bit of garden, his favorite pipe, the dog that was always so flatteringly excited by his arrival and his wife whom he adored but probably never told her so. And now he had to go to Torquay or Bristol or Bath and there was no provision or accommodation for his wife.
They could not afford two homes so off he went and left her alone.
His new life was crowded, rather exciting in fact. It is true he wrote regularly to his wife and told her how much he missed her but he was making new friends and was free. The work was hard and the hours long but there was companionship in the crowded hotel; a companionship which perfectly naturally extended to the evening when one could take walks, or go to a movie, or even join the amateur dramatic society which the civil servants had formed.
Quite rightly his wife at home could not be content with merely keeping house. She joined committees, she helped with the Red Cross, she visited her friends and found less and less eagerness in turning her footsteps homeward. Her husband’s letters pleased her because they were from him but she wasn’t particularly interested in his new acquaintances—and anyway civil servants don’t write very good letters.
The process of becoming strangers to each other had set in. The moralist and the idealist might well rise up and say: “Is human loyalty so shallow
and human love so cheap?” Are there no men and women who can love in Elizabeth Browning’s words: “As the Angels may, with the breadth of Heaven betwixt you:”? Certainly. There are hearts so rich in devotion and loyalty that life itself could not exhaust the fineness and singleness of their love. But there are others of a lighter mold—and many of them. Admittedly the civil servant problem is not a huge one. It was only a beginning and as a matter of fact since Hitler gave upt>ombing London most of the departments have come back and the husband once more catches the same two trains, the dog jumps with delight and the man and his wife are content once more. There were casualties and broken lives, of course, but most of the homes survived for a time.
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silence of children’s voices. That was the beginning.
Married People’s Problem
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As the war progressed so it was seen that nothing but a complete mobilization of man and womanpower could give us the arms that were needed. The screw was put on gradually but remorselessly. Women, single and married, were to be directed into war work. In many cases it meant taking women to other districts where the factories needed them. In addition thousands upon thousands of the younger ones were being drafted into the Army, Navy and Air Force auxiliary services.
Many soldiers from my constituency wrote to me as their M.P. They said that they did not mind fighting, they were anxious to help but could their homes be kept intact? They did not want their wives to go away. It was the old story of the man clinging to his shrine.
The answer had to be, “The nation needs your wife as well as you.” And so the husbands sailed to far-off lands with their homes just houses. It seems so short a time ago when women fought for equal rights with men. Today they are doing the work of men, work that would have seemed beyond their understanding or capacity, and they are fashioning the sinews of victory.
Factory life is hard but there is a lively community spirit about it. The welfare side of it all has been greatly advanced and in this loneliest of wars it is good to have companionship. And let me record here that there is such in innate chivalry in the British workingman that he works side by side with women and regards them as comrades rather than as opportunities.
Man and Wife Strangers
YET once again the process of making man and wife into strangers is going on. Perhaps the worst feature is the intolerable delay in the postal services to and from the Middle East. At a cautious estimate it takes six months to get a reply to a letter—three months each way. Thus in July the wife receives her husband’s letter:
You certainly must have had a grand Christmas. I wish I could have been there.”
She not unnaturally has long since forgotten about Christmas and the letter has no realism about it. He causes her worry by telling about the attack of flu that he is experiencing. Being a good wife she hurriedly writes him instructions how to cure himself and he will get it about next Christmas when he cannot even remember having had flu.
This may seem trivial but it is not. Swift interchange of letters are a wonderful means of keeping intimate contact. A slow interchange has exactly the reverse effect. The airgraph letter has helped a bit to remedy this but it is not a cure. Some of us are urging the Government to take this matter in hand for victory will be a tawdry thing if it is won at the cost of the home life of the nation.
I repeat that this is the loneliest of all wars. The blackout makes normal contact with friends impossible in the evenings. The food problem rules out entertaining. In London one dines at restaurants or clubs. When I went the other night to a friend’s house for dinner it had all the charm of a complete novelty.
London houses are planned on the basis of economical domestic labor. Here you have two servants for less than you would pay for one in Canada. On the other hand the domestics here carefully divide their duties. A cook cooks. A housemaid does her bit and the parlormaid (a terrific swell) is very particular as to her duties. At the present moment I am in correspondence with Mr. Bevin as to whether I can retain the one maid who is left. If not I shall close my house and live in a club.
I shall not see my garden in flower. But perhaps Bevin will be kind.
These are small things compared to the real sacrifices of the war and it seems unworthy to mention them. But they are all part of the inexorable trend to do away with home life. The house next door to mine has been turned into a British Restaurant. Queues of quite well-to-do people line up at lunch time and wait their turn. Then they go back to their homes.
What will be the end of it all? The very setting out of the problem clears one’s mind and perhaps suggests that human nature, which is so prone to err, may find its remedy in the consciousness of what it has missed during the war. In other words the very release from the discipline and security of home life may create a longing for its return. An architect may design a house but he cannot design a home. The home springs from the deepest instincts of the heart and perhaps the very restlessness of these times will recreate the desire for that sanctuary which comes only when the front door is closed on the world outside.
That there will be many domestic tragedies cannot be doubted. That they will be far more numerous than in the last war is already self-evident. That the transition period will be difficult no one can deny. Yet the home will survive—or Britain will not.
In the picture I have drawn I have purposely not stressed the question of the “messalliances” which have been formed. But when one realizes that not only has the population been uprooted, homes broken up, women moved about like armies and that in addition there are more than a million overseas soldiers here one does not need to look too deep into the matter to realize the consequences.
On the other hand many young people have found true love and j happiness. The marriages between ! the ATS and the soldiers, the j Wrens, and the sailors, the! WAAF’s and the Air Force not ! only are healthy, clean and true but prove once more that people marry whom they meet.
Perhaps the lesson of it all is not to blame human beings, for they are cast in different molds and the difficulties of life are often created by temperament as much as temptation, j The real lesson may be that war is blasphemy, anarchy and barbarism. That is why the home, which is the very flowering of the human spirit, has to pay its price.
If we are not criminals and fools we shall see to it that never again will there be a war like this with the severing of companionships and the breaking of ties. When we talk of the blessings of peace we must remember what they are and not let the word peace be a dull and negative word.
Home life depends on peace. Home life is the first casualty in a war.
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