By Alfred Grosch
SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS may provide interesting glimpses of the reign of Queen Victoria, but the film must not be taken as a serious historical record of that reign. There is another side to the picture.
For instance, the Metropolitan Police, founded in 1829, were properly incorporated under another Act of 1839, yet who, viewing the film, would believe that in 1899, sixty years later in the closing years of that glorious era, policemen were so badly paid that many of them had to go round scrounging from local shopkeepers and publicans to supplement these poet wages with gifts of meat, bread, fruit, vegetables and money?
Make no mistake about it, Victoria was a great queen. More truthfully than Charles II she might have said : " My deeds are my ministers', my sayings (and my letters) are my own!" She was very concerned for the welfare of her people all the time. It was not the glory she saw when her soldiers marched away to war, but their poor broken bodies, and the awful conditions under which they would have tO do their fighting.
Always At Wai
In 1838 Britain was at war with Afghans. istan. In 1839 the people were asking fot certain rights such as universal suffrage, payment for members of parliament, the abolition of the property qualification, and being unable to gain a hearing, they rioted in Birmingham and elsewhere with the usual brutal clubbings. Britain was also at war in China this year, and in 1840 very nearly went to war with France over the same question.
In 1841 she was still fighting in China and Afghanistan. In 1842 a whole garrison of 8,000 men was wiped out in Afghanistan, only one, a Dr. Brydone escaped. In 1843 there was trouble in Ireland. Natal was declared to be British. In India Britain was engaged in conquering Scinde, and in 1845 had added the Sikhs of Punjaub to her list of wars in India.
In 1846 famine nearly wiped out the peasantry of Erin. The year 1848 saw insurrections all over Europe: Hungary, Italy, France, Rome and England. Many Englishmen were transported for life as a result. By 1849 Britain had conquered and annexed the Punjaub. By 1852 she was fighting in Burma. In 1848 she had enlarged the scope of her operations and was at war against Russia with France and Turkey as allies. The story of the sufferings of British soldiers in this campaign can still bring tears to the eyes of readers. In 1856, not satisfied with the Crimean War Britain was warring in India and also at war against Persia, and against China.
In 1857 she caught a packet in the Indian Mutiny. During this campaign ope of her great leaders, abusing his men for not being immortal, told them that they fought as though they had dysentery in their brains as well as in their wretched and racked bodies.
In 1858 she was again on the verge of war with France, and in 1866 was still fighting in China. But in 1862 Britain had to pay £3,000,000 to the Northern States of America for damage done by the Southern cruiser Alabama which had been fitted out in a British port to take part in the American Civil War. This war brought terrible distress to the Lancashire cotton workers.
In 1867 Britain went to war in Abyssinia. In 1870 there was a serious rebellion in Canada; in 1873 war in Ashanti, West Africa, and in 1878 more war in Afghanistan.
Famine and rioting broke out in Ireland in 1880. In 1881 Britain was at war with the Boers, in 1882 at war in Egypt, and in 1885 she was staggered by the death of Gordon at Khartoum.
From 1885 to 1895 there were several little wars and punitive expeditions occupying Britain in various parts of the world. Kitchener was fighting his way to Khartoum and setting the seal to years of work,, and in 1899 Britain was at war again with the Boers.
It needs but little imagination to conjure the number of British lives that must have been laid down on all these battlefields during those sixty years. It should be noted, however, that the pay of the common soldier was much the same at the end of the sixty years as at the beginning of them, one shilling a day with a ration of bread, meat, and tea, the soldier to provide out of his pay his own milk, sugar and vegetables, and to pay for his uniform and his washing.
83 8— 1898 : Nothing !
Sixty glorious years might seem all right as a film story, but at the bottom they weren't so glorious that we can now ennoble them as an era of achievement. All that workers now have has mostly been gained since 1900, from 1838 to 1898 the position was practically stationary. This was not the fault of Victoria but of her Ministers, as witness Mr. Gladstone at Harwarden—at a time when boys were working twelve hours a day in coal-pits, and children of tender years went half time to school and half to the mills—who was worrying lest the nation was losing its awareness of sin. And the worst possible sin a workman could commit in his eyes was to drink a glass of beer. The tradition which Gladstone stood for as a Liberal was that workers should work, and sleep, lest they fall into sin, the griev. ous sin of being not such profitable workmen for their Liberal employers. Finally, we are sometimes apt to overlook that not for more than 150 years have we in Britain enjoyed so long a period of peace as we have since 1918. The really glorious years have been the past twenty. Work, housing, wages, unemployment pay, social amenities, entertainment, wireless, secondary education, and many other things stamp these two decades as the most wonderful of any in Britain during the past 300 years.