Monday, 23 November 2009

Britain is a country of unhappy old men who lament the loss of the past but recognise the benefits of the present

I've just read an article in the 'Daily Mail' newspaper by Tony Rennell which, when you strip out the right wing stuff about the level of immigration and membership of the E.U.' which old people are worried about, makes some telling observations about the way they feel about their life in Britain today.

The article was based on a book called 'The Unknown Warriors' by a 33 year old writer from Tyneside called Nicholas Pringle.

Rennell begins : 'They’re the generation who saved us from the Nazis. So what do they think today of the land they gave so much for?'

He starts with Sarah Robinson, who was a teenager when The Second World War broke out. She lived through the Blitz and as soon as she turned 18, she joined the Royal Navy to do her bit for the War Effort.

Rennell said that : ' Hers was a small part in a huge, history-making enterprise, and her contribution epitomises her generation’s sense of service and sacrifice. Nearly 400,000 Britons died. Millions more were scarred by the experience, physically and mentally. But was it worth it?

Her answer, and the answer of many of her contemporaries, now in their 80s and 90s, is a resounding 'No'.

'They despise what has become of the Britain they once fought to save. It’s not our country any more, they say, in sorrow and anger.

Sarah harks back to the days when ‘people kept the laws and were polite and courteous. We didn’t have much money, but we were contented and happy. People whistled and sang. There was still the United Kingdom, our country, which we had fought for, our freedom, democracy. But where is it now?!’

There followed a lot of negativity, but I want to home in on the positive comments :

One old chap praised the breaking down of class barriers in Britain compared with the years when he was young and ‘infinitely’ increased prosperity.

'More clothes, cars, holidays abroad, home ownership. As a young teacher in the Fifties I had one suit,of Army issue and the luxury of a sports jacket and flannels at the weekend.

Education has made vast progress. In my early days I taught classes of 50. Only five per cent of children went on to further education compared with over 40 per cent today.

The emancipation of women has also been a huge plus, with the introduction of the pill a large contributor. Before the war, women teachers were dismissed as soon as they married.’

A Land Girl who laboured on farms in Devon during the war agreed that :

‘We have so much to be grateful for. So much progress has been made to transform the standard of living since the war.’

A Captain with a Military Cross for 'valour under fire' thought Britain was : 'still the best country in the world'.

A grandmother, the widow of a Royal Marine who took part in the D-Day landings, was grateful for a pensioner’s free television licence, ‘ which brings art, travel and animals into my home’, and being able to text her grandchildren. Just being alive was a bonus. ‘Although I hate what is happening to our country, I am so happy to be here, grumbling, but remembering better, happier days,’

On the negative side :

'One of the bitterest complaints of the veterans was that their trenchant views on many of the matters aired here were constantly ignored by those in authority. Their letters of complaint to councillors and MPs went unanswered. It was as if they didn’t matter, except when wheeled out for the rituals of Remembrance Day.

‘Why do so many of the British public confuse sentimentality with genuine concern for others?’ asked one letter-writer.

Rennel said : 'The overall impression any reader of the letters gets is that this generation feel unheard, unwanted and unimportant'.

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