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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939

Crisis Life in London

page 46

Crisis Life in London

London swelters; heavy clouds obscure the sun as they have done for days past, and the atmosphere is overpowering and sticky; somehow the weather has got tangled up with the international situation; the wings of von Ribbentrop's plane as he flies to Moscow to secure Communist adherance to the anti-Comintern front, obscure the rays of hope, and the outlook is gloomy and oppressive. How does it all strike us here at the hub of the Empire and what are its effects on our daily lives?

First of all every scale of values that any of us ever had has gone by the board. If we were Colonel Blimps we had, after years of working tor the crushing of the Communist menace by the Nazis, to get used to the idea of an impending alliance with Stalin against our supposed idealogical brethren; an allegiance which, vanishing literally overnight, leaves us with no escape from the philosophy of "the old school tie" with its doctrine of "sticking to our pledges in the face of fearful odds" and "dying like gentlemen"—cold comfort when it becomes a lively probability. If we were followers of a more enlightened faith which saw the Nazi peril in all its fearfulness and hoped for an escape under the wing of Russia, and had repeatedly reproached the British Government for not getting on with the job and concluding the Soviet alliance, for us too a world was snatched away with the publication of the Russo-German terms; and where can you find such a betrayal in all the course of history—unless it be at Munich just a year ago? If we were, and a few of us were (Mr. Willie Gallacher for example), outright Communists who saw in Russia the moral inspiration of that new Western Europe which was to emerge from the ultimate breakdown of the capitalist world, as a result of the excessive greed of Germany, the internal break-up of France, and the gradual decay of England—what a blow Stalin has dealt for us too. No, there is nothing now to do but sit down, every one of us, in every walk of life and every shade of political opinion, and lick our wounds and try again.

As to the effect on our daily lives, it might be said London is much as it always was, "business as usual" as the papers like to say. But it isn't. Or it isn't so far as the non-war material producing industries are concerned at any rate. Hundreds of men and women are engaged full time on voluntary defence duties. They are the lucky ones. They have something to do and can get on with it, but their withdrawal from general administrative routine is paralysing if there were no other factors—and there are. For the rest there is just—waiting. At the office it is impossible to work. You dash home for lunch and the wireless news bulletin—only a lot of news you have already read in the morning papers or in morning editions of the evening papers—no news. You go back to the office. At 4 p.m. you go out to get the latest editions of the papers—if you can wait so long. You dash home to be in time for the 6 p.m. news, 9 p.m. news, 11 p.m. news—usually no news. There could be news but democratic government apparently does not mean that there will be—for the people. You go to bed but are up early waiting for the paper to arrive. In the midst of all this you are trying to arrange some form of service, or others around you are doing so, or telegrams arrive, as one did this (Sunday) morning saying simply "Get ready for evacuation," or you are all stirred up, after a news bulletin contributing nothing to your knowledge, by the sudden commencement of evacuation of children from the hospital opposite—is there something that the authorities know that you don't? On every green patch a barrage balloon is moored—if those balloons go up all will be over. The rush on black paper and cloth for darkening material exhausted supplies several times over. Most of us have got in our stores of tinned food and overhauled our gas-masks. Hundreds of air-raid shelters have gone up, Anderson or otherwise, but it is an interesting sidelight on the British character that it has been possible for weeks, travelling in along the suburban railway lines, to see freely delivered Anderson shelters leaning in sections against back fences—of course, small though they are, many have been delivered for erection in south-eastern suburban back gardens that are not large enough to hold them. Many people, more fortunate than the east-enders, have taken country cottages as refuges; page 47 indeed it is not possible now to rent a little place in the country and come to town to work every day, they are all taken by dear old ladies—not necessarily all of the female sex—who make up their minds each evening to go there next day—and change their minds when the next day comes.

Well, that is London to-day, London for almost a week past, London for how long to come? If there is a just God, Hitler will not do this much longer; or, maybe, if there is a just God, He sees it as six of Hitler and half-a-dozen of Chamberlain. What price us in that event?

—A. T. S. McGhie.