Saturday, 17 August 2013

Devastating

I got a little upset today again, reading accounts of the First World War. How am I ever going to write this piece without completely falling apart? Because my day hasn't been in any way, shape, or form interesting, I thought I might hand this blog over to the testimony of one of the thousands of soldiers who came back at the end of the First World War to a world which had cruelly moved on without them. In the 20s, there were fewer jobs, and men who had risked their lives for Britain, found themselves doing all sorts of undignified things, just to earn a crust.

The following quote comes from Trooper Sydney Chaplin from the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry:

"In 1923, I was still without regular work (just odd jobs when I could get them) when I was told that the Corps of Commissionaires were interviewing ex-Servicemen in London. So I managed to scrape enough to pay for a return ticket to London and enough to pay for expenses. I was interviewed by a Major who took my particulars, checked my discharge papers, then informed me that owing to the amount of applications it would be a very long while before they could offer me a post. So that was it.

I had a walk around and eventually sat on a seat on the Embankment. I must have dozed off, because it was dark when I woke up, so I decided to stay put until the morning. I woke up as the dawn was breaking, and what a sight it was. All the seats were full of old soldiers in all sorts of dress - mostly khaki - and a lot more were lying on the steps, some wrapped up in old newspapers. Men who had fought in the trenches, now unwanted and left to starve, were all huddled together.

I spent the day looking for work, but there were no vacancies anywhere. Finally I went into a cinema for a rest in the threepenny seats. It was dark when I came out and started to walk to St Pancras Station for the night train. As I was passing a shop doorway, I heard someone crying. I stopped and looked in and saw a man wearing an Army greatcoat with a turban on his head and a tray suspended from his neck with lucky charms on it. Another, unwanted after three years in the trenches. He and his wife were penniless when some crook offered him a chance to earn money easy if he could find five shillings. His wife pawned her wedding ring to get it, and in return he got a tray, a turban and a dozen or so lucky charms to sell at six pence each. What a hope! Now after a day without anything to eat or drink he was broken-hearted at the thought of going home to his wife without a penny. He was an ex-Company Sergeant-Major."

This absolutely broke my heart.

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