As one gets older, flashes of half-forgotten memories suddenly invade your mind. I recalled the other day a clerk in a firm I worked for in Luton, who was grossly obese and chain smoked to an extent that would be financially prohibitive currently. He occupied his place in the audit room, his addiction to cigarettes marking a dark and very large nicotine stain on the ceiling, above him. Unremarkable enough in those days, but one day he talked of his youth. He spoke of a riot in Luton, when the Riot Act was read to a crowd from the steps of the Town Hall. Research on my part discovered, not as I had thought an industrial disturbance of the 1930's, but the Luton "Peace Riot" of 1919. Basically the returning heroes of The Great War and their families were protesting at a magnificent celebration being put on to mark the end of the hostilities, but from which they were excluded. The Town Hall was sacked and the Mayor had to escape in disguise from his parlour.
What really impressed me about my recollection is that a single conversation over 40 years ago has taken me back a further 50 years or so, nearly 100 years. Similarly my father recounted to me many years ago his attending a rally in Sutton Park with his father. There is little doubt in my mind that this was a union rally and probably in the early 1920's as they would have to have walked the five miles or so to the venue.
Other than to show my working class roots, what is the point of the two stories? For me it contrasts our lives now in the 21st
Century with that of our fathers' back at the beginning of the 20th
Century. Those returning war heroes in 1919 were not regarded as being of importance by the relatively minor officials of the Luton Council. The rally of the 1920's may have been about the living conditions of the time. Far worse than today being in the middle of a time when deflation was far more common than inflation.
So here I am talking of the events of over 90 years ago, long before I was born. They are the recollections not of my generation, but of my father's and grandfather's generations. In a fast moving world we sometimes forget, not only what we owe those who have gone before us, but what we can learn from them. It is too easy to discount the elderly as being out of touch and not having anything to tell us. But remember they were doing it well before we were born.
Politicians of today could well do to recall that "Peace Riot" and not to "disrespect" those who have given sterling support to our society, in whatever form. Equally those who claim that so many in this country live below the poverty line and demand an expansion in big government should recall that my grandfather's generation typically brought up in a big family on less than the current cost of a gallon of petrol or a pack of Â ten cigarettes. No government handouts, except in the most extreme of circumstances just, for the aspiring, hard work and an iron fist surrounding the family budget.
No "gap years" for my father's generation. No they worked from 14 or 15, learning a trade. The three brothers (my father and uncles, from the older of two families my grandfather brought up) went into a trade, bricklayer, joiner and draftsman. From those apprenticeships they rose through being foreman and on. They learned through night school and experience.
Being cornered by an old fogey and being regaled on how much better (or worse) their world was, is not always an edifying experience. However, there are things to learn from past generations, if only their work ethic and their commitment to family and society often in the most trying of circumstances. Go on; pick a brain that has seen a past world.
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