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Remembered Today:

The Road to Wigan Pier


Tim Birch

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I know it relates to an era two decades after the Great War, but on the basis that conditions are unlikely to have got much worse, this very readable book by George Orwell goes a long way to-wards explaining how and why the majority of the soldiers endured everyday life on the Western Front. If anything life with the BEF, both in and out of the trenches, was a holiday camp compared with life in an industrial city or mining area.

Whilst at times soldiers faced a high risk of death or injury at the front, it was probably not disimilar to the risks a face worker coal miner went through every day he worked in the pit. Living conditions in the city slums were so appalling that they seem unbelievable by to-day's standards. In contrast the Army provided reasonable billets when out of the line, hot baths, clean clothing, wholesome food, medical care and even entertainment.

The book has been reprinted in paperback by Pengiun Classics (2001) and is well worth a read by anyone interested in social history during the first part of the 20th century.

Tim

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Tim,

I am inclined to agree with you as far as your comments relate to the BEF.

As far as other WWI fronts are concerned then it would be a close run thing. The men on Gallipoli for instance would have given anything “for reasonable billets when out of the line, hot baths, clean clothing, wholesome food, medical care and even entertainment.”

Regards

Michael D.R.

Ex NCB (surface) employee

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Neil Mackenzie

Tim.

I couldn't agree more. If you want to appreciate how appalling the average diet was, and in a time that is really not that long ago, then this book conveys it very well.

Neil

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Simon_Fielding

An interesting insight into the Home Front would be the books by Kathleen Dayus, especially 'Her People' which I think is still published by Virago.

She grew up in the Edwardian slums of Birmingham - a truly sobering account. Her father was a Boer war vet and her brothers both served (and survived).

These have added poignancy for me as I was recommended them by my grandfather who regarded them as the closest parallel to his own Winson Green childhood (b.1911) that he'd ever read.

A true classic - a real ordinary woman's voice talking frankly about our terrible century. And a remind how *better* many things are now!

Simon

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I too have read Road to Wigan Pier and its fascinating. Both Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London are well worth reading too in my opinion.

Simon - I will have to get a copy of the Dayus book - I grew up in Coventry and worked in and around Birmingham for a while before the lure of the bright lights of the south got me!

I notice you are researching the men and officers on the Bewdley War memorial. I spent two years living in Bewdley and went to school there. I knew the neice of one of the men - Collins (can't remember his first name). He was according to her killed by a booby trap whilst clearing bodies in North Africa.

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I too have read Road to Wigan Pier and its fascinating. Both Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London are well worth reading too in my opinion.

Homage to Catelonia gives some very interesting descriptions of trench warfare. Little seems to have changed since 1918 apart from the fact that (thankfully for those involved) neither side in the Spanish Civil War had much significant artillery.

Tim

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On the social history theme which Tim has introduced by highlighting this excellent book -

Two stories my mother (b.1919) has told me about life in the depression without a father (he died 1930). And yes I was a late baby!!

Romantic : of little girls playing 'wee shops' with broken crockery. Each girl had a hanky and set out her 'wares' on the footpath and then they all played at shopping.

I wonder if that was a countrywide scenario.

Harsh: being the only girl in her street to have 'jam' on her 'piece' .. because my grandmother (who had all the business acumen) actually had a 'real wee shop'.

My mother vividly remembers opening her sandwich up and pressing the jam against the dry bread of the other girls' sandwiches so they could all have a 'taste.'

There's a lot more about poverty ... but she prefers to remember the days of summer. Can't blame her.

Des

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