I4 ust Disillusion The Young"
forward to in life, but how much more we had to look forward to who were under
IPROPOSE to shatter a few illusions. . . . Yesterday, September 1, I reached my fiftieth birthday, but twenty-six years ago to the day I could still number myself among the under twenty-fives.
For some weeks past the under twenty-fives of today have been telling the readers of the CA'THOLIC HERALD not only just how little they have to look
By Alfred Grosch
twenty-five a quarter of a century ago. As, however, so many of the moderns seem to have an exaggerated notion of those alleged glorious, mad, intoxicating, and carefree pre-war days, I propose forthwith to put the picture in its proper perspective.
For the truth is, there was nothing glorious, mad. or intoxicating about the life led by the average worker, and none —from the highest in the land to the lowest paid labourer—knew anything of a carefree existence in the ten or twelve years immediately preceding the Great War.
Labourers Got No Holidays
Let us first examine the life of the worker : The labourer was paid between twenty and twenty-five shillings for a 56hour week. He lost all Bank Holidays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day time, and he was not paid when sick.
A clerk fared slightly better. In a large firm I knew very well, the male clerks, about 70 or 80 in number, drew salaries ranging from twenty to twenty-five shillings a week. Some few in the export department who could speak a couple of languages earned two pounds a week. The hours were 51. There was no pension, and when they fell out of work, as 95 per cent. did when the concern changed ownership, they walked about for weeks — some of them months—without finding work. Several of the older ones, who had given twenty and thirty years' service, never did find it and eventually became a charge upon their children.
Clearly, for this generation there was little to look forward to in the way of a future. To be out of work then was a much greater hardship than now. There was no unemployment pay, and, as I can relate from personal experience, long queues were to be found outside any office which had advertised a situation vacant.
Unemployment for 1906-1910 stood round about five per cent. which, on a basis of today's insurable population would give a mean figure of about 600,000 unemployed.
No So Carefree Days
But about the carefree generation. This is, of course, a pleasant fiction to which distance and time have lent a certain enchantment. It is indeed often said nowadays that the horizon of 1913-14 up to that dread July presented no hint of dark cloud to the happy people of these islands.
But the facts give the lie to the statement, for take this from the Manchester Guardian, May 20: 1 91 0 " England and Germany are pulling in opposite ways . . . this disagreement is the greatest danger to peace in Europe and in the world." That was 28 years ago, and already the dark clouds of war were gathering over that miscalled "Carefree era."
The same year Mr. Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was deploring the mad race in armaments. There was grave unrest among working-classes, and a growing spirit of revolt against the dirt and squalor amid which they were forced to spend their lives. There were no council housing estates then, no garden cities for workers. Before the year was out a serious coal strike with accompanying riots broke out in Tonypandy.
" His Majesty opens the first Parliament of his reign in circumstances more anxious and trying than any that 1911 have been encountered by the Sovereign of this country for a long period." -The Times, February 6.
By August of that year 200,000 railwaymen were on strike, 80,000 of whom earned at work a normal weekly wage of twenty shillings or less. A national coal strike bringing great distress among the masses of the nation is the
feature of the opening 1912 of the year.
" Unparalleled scenes of privation and distress were witnessed in the great industrial centres of the North. Many a street yesterday possessed not a solitary fire."— Daily Mail. March 25.
" End of Coal Strike."—Daily Chronicle, April 4.
" National Strike of Transport Workers declared last night."—Daily Chronicle, June 11.
" War between Turkey and the whole of the Balkan League is now only a matter of a few hours. . .
1914 " We have to face the one grim fact that the conflict which all Europe has been dreading for thirty years is at last precipitated." —The Times, October 14.
Learn How to Use a Rifle And so it went on. Is it any wonder that Lord Roberts stumped up and down the country begging young men to learn how to use a rifle? is it any wonder the nation was clamouring vociferously for more Dreadnoughts?
Robert Blatchford, veteran Socialist, had toured Germany, and filled columns in the Daily Mail with the preparations Germany was making against The Day.
On top of this Ulster was in practical revolt against the Government of Britain over Home Rule for Ireland. " I will give the Government the alternatives: Give us a clear cut for Ulster, or come and fight us."—Sir Edward Carson at Belfast, July 13.
On July 27, British soldiers were in action in Dublin streets against the other side, and this is the generation, and these are the days which Mr. Moran, a week or two ago, alleged gave something to look forward to, and a future to build for.
The truth of the matter is that it was (Continued at foot of columns 5 and 6)