The War Years
World War One
Maybe they thought it was as bad as it gets; crawling out of bed on black, icy mornings to work all day in a hellish, roaring, stifling weaving shed. Maybe they thought nothing could be much worse than a life lived in poor housing with half starved kids and the bleak prospect of a penurious old age and an early death from a work-related illness.
Well the First World War disabused them. Paschendaele, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, this is where Hell really was and a few days in the front line made them yearn for dear old 'Blighty' and home 'comforts,' however humble..
Many thousands never made it back home. There would be a telegram. Curtains would be drawn. Maybe neighbours would hear sobbing through paper-thin walls.
And even those who did return did not return whole. They left limbs. They left comrades. They left youth. They left hope. They left their dreams.
And the world at home had changed too. Trade was depressed, jobs uncertain. It was only fit for broken men and all these broken men were fit for was to sit by the fire and stare unblinking into the coals, hearing gunfire still, still seeing pals disintegrate.
World War Two
This was a war which involved everybody, not just servicemen and their families. Everybody experienced the 'black-outs, 'rationing', evacuees. The citizens of London, Liverpool, Coventry, Portsmouth and many other towns and cities experienced much worse. They were in the front line and night after night the sound of German bombers would send them down to the air-raid shelters.
Not since Napoleon's day had the threat of invasion been so real. The Local Defence Volunteers were created, the 'Look, Duck and Vanish,' later known as the Home Guard. Sign posts were removed, milestones defaced. 'Pill boxes' were contructed at crossroads and on the beaches.
For servicemen there were long periods of boredom interspersed with intense activity and terror. For many soldiers the war was bracketed by the evacuation from Dunkirk and the Normandy landings. Sailors had to endure the perils of the U-Boat infested North Atlantic; airmen, the 'Battle of Britain' and the bombing raids over Germany.
Post-war, the world had to face the horrors of the concentration camps and the H-Bomb, but in Britain, despite the bleakness and the deprivation, a Labour Government was elected and, uniquely, one determined to make lives better for ordinary people. And it did, for a little while at any rate, it actually did.