Monday 23 May 2016

Seventy Years On

The trouble with reading history books about a period that you recall is that you may learn some things that you did not know but on the other hand you see the things either missed or left out that you may think were important or relevant.

No, this is not another post on the Roman Empire but about the early 1940's.  I rarely read books about my own times but this was on offer and alleged "Secret History Of The Blitz" by Joshua Levine.  Perhaps there may be some secrets but often this means things left out or forgotten or thought to be unimportant.

There was one part of the book that did catch the eye.  I was not aware that early in the War when oil was critical and supply mattered more than cost there had been over a hundred "nodding donkeys" installed in the Sherwood Forest of Nottinghamshire and district.  Oil men from Texas were brought in to get them up and fast and this was before the USA entered the War.

Not only did the amount extracted matter, it was of high quality.  This allowed high octane aviation fuel to be produced, higher than that of German supplies.  The Battle of Britain was won by the skills and courage of the airmen and by quality engineering such as the Merlin engines, as well as the other support systems but they were helped by that extra bit of boost when full power was needed.

The chapters suggesting that this period allowed something of a sexual revolution and other behaviour raised the eyebrows and not for the usual reasons.  If anything what developed seemed to be a reversion to what had gone on in the Victorian age and beyond that had been curtailed by laws, organised policing, social controls and more settled employment etc.

The War disrupted this on a major scale very quickly. Afterwards for a period the established norms of family life etc of the early 20th Century seemed to return, but that may have been the product of the then housing, welfare, law and order and employment policies of that period. When that began to change in the sixties and seventies people simply reverted to old habits.

But there is one major omission.  The book deals with prejudice and does mention the then relatively small numbers of the minority groups affected, Jews, West Indians, Italians and Chinese.  This relates to our recent issues over race.  What is not mentioned is that a lot of this was down to ignorance in an era with limited education for the masses and at a time when someone from another town a few miles away was regarded as a "stranger" and often with suspicion.

It makes passing mention of class and snobbery but without explaining the extent and nature of this, but this might need a book on its own.  However, one major source of division I recall in that period was religious and the nature and effect of the differences between the Anglicans, the Dissenting groups and the Roman Catholics.

For the RC's the essence of the problem was the strong prejudice of many against The Irish.  Where the Irish were in larger numbers there could be trouble; where they were small they would be discriminated against in many places.  They were not helped by the IRA planting bombs in 1940 or the Irish Republic extending courtesies to The Third Reich when the Irish economy depended so much on UK remittance money.

In the case of the Dissenting Congregations and the Anglicans it turned on local politics and the ongoing struggles for power in many communities at a time when local authorities had control over major services.  This may seem a small matter in these days of central control but not then.

It may be defined as political but there was often the undertow of doctrinal and belief thinking.  A good many problems with local authorities doing their job was that the different groups could not agree what the real work was, never mind who should get the jobs to do them.  After 1939 this had to change and fast.

The enemy may have been at the gates but in too many towns and county offices the factions were wrangling about who should have the keys and hand them over.  It is this general confusion and old disputes taking priority over the War that explains the nature and the stridency of the propaganda of the period.

What the book does explain is that the National Health Service, the welfare state, education and other advances were born in this period with cross party support and to a great extent as a response to deal with the consequences of The Blitz.  The Attlee government confirmed and extended the peace time continuation as this clearly was the wish of the great majority of the electorate in the 1945 Election.

I have not forgotten that many of us in the 1940's, me included, regarded "Bomber" Harris and the men of Bomber Command and their American comrades, as heroes for repaying the Germans with interest.

1 comment:

  1. Some restored "nodding donkeys" are still there in the Dukes Wood Oil Museum. We pass by the area regularly.

    The land is now a nature reserve donated to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust in 1989 by British Petroleum.