• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Agenda: At Christmas let us ponder the tale of two Britains that persists today


War declared. Evacuated with my sister to Ipswich. Christmas was with a middle-aged couple. Our parents did not join us. They had no car and travel by train was difficult. Their absence heightened my distress at being separated from them. During this war the psychiatrist John Bowlby prepared his classic study which demonstrated that separations could be emotionally harmful.

Seventy years later, many children are still in public care. The Coalition Governmment's obsession with cutting welfare benefits means that pressure is put on both parents to work whatever the needs of their children. In Easterhouse in east Glasgow, I see parents juggling with two or more part-time jobs with children left with others.

1940: After a few months, we returned home. The London blitz started in September with 76 consecutive nights of bombing. No presents, no Christmas tree and the continuing fear of bombs . It was not like that for all Britain. Professor Richard Titmuss identified a private evacuation in which the affluent moved to safe holiday establishments and hotels. Two Britains.

Today the same divide exists. At least in the war, rationing levelled out the distribution of food. Now some go to food banks while others feast in abundance

1941: Evacuated with mum to Cranleigh in Surrey. I started school in a hall with 12 tables and 12 classes. Dad, who worked in a munitions factory and as an ARP warden, made it for Christmas Day. He brought my first present, a Hornby train. It did not work and probably came from a bomb site. He polished the track with sandpaper and the engine zoomed. Wiith dad we explored Cranleigh. Sadly, he had to return after two days. I missed him.

Today some children are still separated from fathers. The Government urges them to get on their bikes and find jobs. I know those who have done this, one still working away after three years. They have found work but cannot afford accommodation for their families. Wives, children and fathers suffer emotionally.

1942: Back home .The Ilford Hippodrome put its weekly notice on our fence in return for two tickets. Best of all were the Christmas pantos. In 1942 it was Cinderella with her carriage being drawn by 4 horses. One pooed on stage, kicking the mess everywhere.

Pantos are still part of Christmas. Prices are up and many parents cannot afford them. I go to the cheaper Tron in Glasgow where this year it is Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell. A cast of about six but the same fun. MPs should devote their pay rise to ensure that all children from the poorest families can attend.

1943: On Christmas Day the extended family joined us, less two uncles serving abroad. On Boxing Day, dad's ARP warden friends came round. I remember Jack the cobbler, Charlie who worked at the docks, and Curly who was completely bald. They told stories, like the one about a woman in a bombed house pulling down her knickers and asking dad to pull out shattered glass from her behind. Mum did not laugh.

After the war, they formed a working men's club. Their common experiences bound them together in an organisation which served the community.

In deprived areas, institutions run by local people continue. Credit unions, table tennis and football teams, holidays and community projects. Yet they receive little backing from the Government.

1944: A V2 rocket destroyed our home on my baby brother's first birthday. We were evacuated to Hastings. One room and one bed for four of us. The worst Christmas because dad could not come. But peace was in sight and in May, 1945 we caught the train home.

At a drop-in centre, I met a refugee from Iraq. He and his family fled to Britain after friends had been murdered. He is unemployed despite speaking perfect English. Let us open our homes and pockets to such people who want safety and security. And as the centenary of the beginning of the First World War arrives, let us celebrate peace not war.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.