"ROUND about the year 1912 1 read a book by an American author entitled Looking Backward, 2000 to 1887. In one part of this book, describing a room in the home of an average person in A.D. 2000, he wrote that by turning a knob the room _could be flooded with beautiful music and if you didn't like one kind of music it would be possible to change over to another.
When I read it 45 years ago that seemed a fantastic dream, yet today, night after night, millions the world over do it in their own homes even as I do in mine.
A few months ago my daughter went down to her in-laws. She looked into the sitting-room where several old men, including her father-in-law, were seated, smoking, and watching a football match on the television screen. They were for the most part men retired from work through old age, or ill health, and for them the bustle and crowds of a football ground were too much. But through the wonderful inventions of radio and of television which have come to us 50 years earlier than Bellamy prophesied, they were enjoying in the quietude of home and by the comfort of the fireside the thrills and excitements of the football field.
Strangely enough, the year 1912 marked the beginnings of a revolution which in the brief space of 42 years has brought about vast changes in our lives. These beginnings derived much of their impetus from the great Liberal Administration — of which Mr. Winston Churchill a n d Lord Samuel were members—and not a little of their fire from a young Welsh politician who was then known as David Lloyd George. But first let me mention an event that derived from neither of these
"RING OFF THE OLD, RING ON THE NEW" ran the headlines in the Daily Chronicle, January 1, 1912.
"Last night, without any fuss or ceremony," wrote some long forgotten leader writer, "the National Company's undertaking was transferred to the State...."
The significance of this to me was that I happened to be one of the 18,000 employees of the National Telephone Company who became civil servants on the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1911, and the change of status, though I did not then know it, had an effect that I was to feel more or less strongly throughout the whole of the next 40 years.
First, my hours of duty were reduced from 73 to 54 a week. Not very long after this Lord Samuel (then Mr. Herbert Samuel, Postmaster General in Mr. Asquith's Liberal Government) became core cerned over the pay and conditions of certain branches of the Service, including the one which had but newly joined the Post Office. He even came round in the evenings to the exchanges where we worked in order that he might talk with us and discover for himself at first hand what the wages and conditions meant to us.
The eventual result of his interest was an increase of Ss. a week, a small fortune in those pre-1914 days. With shorter hours and
higher wages the girl of my choice and I decided that it was a favourable time to get married, and we did so, confident in the notion that we could now safely face the perils of the unknown future.
Fortunate for us that the future was unknown, for within a little over two years I was to leave my wife with two children and join up as an infantryman to fight in the first World War. Four dreadful years went by before we were able to resume our simple, homely way of life.
BUT let us go back to 1912 for a moment, for it was a very important year in many respects.
On July 13, 1912, Mr. David fiery Mr. Lloyd George. "I will fight it through or fall!"
Well, it went through; Mr. Lloyd George did not fall and we can, as he foretold, thank his memory for this great beginning of a new reign of social justice which has come to fulfilment in our time.
'FTER my four years of sol
diering—one in captivity—I hungered for a more active life than the Telephone Se r v ice offered, and joined the Metropolitan Police. In due course I was posted to Acton for duty. But my time in the police was of short duration, for war injuries and prison camp troubles broke out afresh and after 19 weeks in St.
More to win THE new Government not only
promised a new world but, to the surprise of most of us, produced it. True, many did not and do not like it, but many more do.
To the many who did not know the old world there may not seem anything very original about this new world, and here is what Mr. David Lloyd George had to say about that world in which my wife and I ventured to get married :
"It was a world where toil for myriads of honest workers, men and women, purchased nothing better than squalor, penury, anxiety a n d wretchedness — a world scarred by slums and disgraced by sweating, where unemployment through the vicissitudes of industry brought despair to multitudes of humble homes, a world where side by side with want there was a waste of the inexhaustible riches of the earth partly through ignorance and want of forethought, and partly through entrenched selfishness."
Remember . .
THAT world has gone, yet there are still foolish people who sigh for what they call "the good old days," which they measure by the price of a packet of fags, a quart of beer, or a bottle of whisky.
They forget that then a man's wages were 22s. 6d. for a week of 73 hours (night work) with no Sundays or Bank Holidays off. They do not choose to remember working class wives waiting in the market places till midnight on Saturdays for the butchers to auction off cheap the bits and pieces they had failed to sell to their better-off customers; meanwhile, scores of barefooted and hungry children searched the garbage heaps for scraps of edible fruit and vegetables.
The husbands of these women and the fathers of these children were not workless; they were earning wages, wages insufficient to prevent the daily search through discarded rubbish as an essential part of housekeeping. Within a few hundred yards of one such market place in north-west London, in 1912, the workmen of a factory were complaining to their manager that they could not support themselves and their wives and children on their wages-14s. a week—which was all they were getting and, may I add, all they continued to get.
NATIONAL Health Insurance,
unemployment pay and enlightened Public Assistance, higher wages, holidays with pay, widows and orphans' pensions, family allowances and child ren's adopt ion have all helped to change the face of our world from what it was on New Year's Day, January, 1912.
These things—mostly in the spirit of the great Encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI—are in the Christian tradition of the gospel of the Good Samaritan, the good neighbour, by which alone an age may judge of its progress both spiritual and temporal.
There are many things wrong with the world today, but we have travelled far in 42 years and if we have half the faith and the courage of those who won us these things we shall win much more in the years yet to come.