1945: Welcome back to an impoverished Britain

View of St Paul's Cathedral and the bomb damaged areas surrounding it in London.
View of St Paul’s Cathedral and the bomb damaged areas surrounding it in London.

The war may have been won in Europe but it would take a long time before living conditions improved for many people. In Britain food rationing would continue for many years after the war. Almost every town and city had wide expanses of bomb sites, a daily reminder of the acute housing shortage that would also take years to remedy.

For the great multitude of people who had been damaged, physically and mentally, by the war, resources were scarce. Anthony Faramus had lived on the island of Jersey before falling foul of the German occupiers and being sent off to a concentration camp. Hopelessly emaciated, he was too weak to walk when he was finally liberated. He was to discover that his welcome back to Britain had much to be desired:

My reintroduction into civilization fell somewhat short of my expectations. Incredibly, there were times when I regretted my return. Flown to England courtesy of the American army, who treated me liberally, with compassionate understanding and without counting the cost of a boarder in their hands, I quickly became exasperated by British officialdom; first, when I was abruptly removed from a friendly cottage-type hospital in the peace and quiet of the countryside to a large institution for incurables and the terminally ill.

‘Be grateful,’ I was told, ‘it’s far better than the place you’ve been at, by all accounts’. It was put to me straightforwardly and I understood. Unable to procure the longed-for privacy and medical care for lack of pounds, shillings and pence, I was obliged to accept charity.

I was fed three times a day, bathed and given a book to read. I was not ungrateful, but I was tired of the bedlam and the emotional disturbances of unfortunate people on every side of me. I had some physical discomfort, a loss of power in my legs, but I was neither neurotic nor mentally unbalanced.

I had not informed my mother or any member of my family of my return from the grave. My intention had been first to rehabilitate myself, to put back the five stones I had lost and to see my hair grow to its normal thickness and length.

The institution with its system of rigid rules did not help me to improve. I did not believe the inmates were ever meant to be let loose on the streets, and I resolved to extricate myself from the trap. I made an urgent appeal to my sister, the wartime evacuee from Jersey island to Rochdale in Lancashire.

I was tied down to an invalid carriage, a ridiculous ‘granny’ Bathchair with two large wheels at the back of the basketwork chassis and a small one at the front steered by a long rod with a T-shaped handle. But I was able to move to a warm and loving pied-a-terre with neighbours, run-of-the-mill Rochdale people like the corner grocer and baker, brightening up my days.

‘You need fattening up, lad, those daft buggers at Welfare will give you nowt, not even the skin off a bloody rice pudding, they won’t.’ Young cotton mill girls were an inspiration too, knocking at my sisters street door and bringing me hard-to-come-by eggs and fruit, and pies baked by ‘Mum’. They offered to wheel me out to the park and, after a while, made passes and aroused my passions, breathing fresh life into me with the kind of kisses I hadn’t experienced since leaving Romainville.

But it was those ‘buggers’ at Welfare, the ‘gauleiters’ of bumbledom who gave me the hump. The to-ing and fro-ing, the waiting in line, the form-filling, the fatuous questions, all for a pint of milk, a loaf of bread, a jar of malt extract and a pittance in a warrant to be cashed at the post office, not enough to cover what my sister was paying out.

Perseverance and strength of will put my wheel-chair up ‘for sale’. I took to a pair of crutches, an event ruled unrealistic three months before, and, before my first Christmas of liberty, I was standing on my two feet unaided.

See Anthony Faramus: Journey into Darkness.

In 1945 there was no ‘Welfare State’ and the National Health Service was just a manifesto promise of the Labour Party in the General Election that was now under way.

Bricklayers repair the front wall of a terrace of houses badly damaged by German bombs.
Bricklayers repair the front wall of a terrace of houses badly damaged by German bombs.

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