Are things really that bad?Posted by Nemo
Although war is undeniably hell it has to be said that for my father World War 2 was the best thing that ever happened to him. He was bought up in a slum in South London and until he joined the army his life was a disaster and in his own words he was “the most horrible child that ever lived.” This was due to a doting mother that disliked her daughters but treated her sons like Gods and my father being the youngest was Head God. When his call up papers came he was excited at the prospect of adventure and found that for the first time his life had a purpose.
Although he refers to the house he grew up in as a slum where the closest thing to a bathroom was a kitchen with one water pipe sticking out of the ground they did at least have their own tap. He still has nightmares about a nearby estate where they had to share an outside tap and toilet amongst eight households. Those houses had one room upstairs and one downstairs and the only way to get from one room to the other was up and down a stepladder. People on that estate regarded my father as being well off. It is no wonder that due to the poverty he grew up in he became a committed socialist and the greatest dream during his time in the army was that when the war was over social injustice would be a thing of the past. The army brought people from all walks of life together and getting on so well with his comrades there was no reason to think it would not always be like that. When the war ended he returned to London and was devastated to find the class system re-establishing itself but at least he found himself a secure job in the post office and was able to support his family without the fear of us ever having to live in the conditions he grew up in.
With my father’s love of talking combined with his strong political views I spent a lot of my life discussing the problems of society with him and in common with most children I always took the opposite view. Despite his disillusionment with the Labour Party he still holds the same views like a broken record and in particular the extraordinary conviction that things are so much worse now than they were in his day. He knows it is illogical but justifies his opinion by saying that “at least we had hope in those days.”
My mother was born in what was a small village called Piove Di Sacco near Padova in Italy. When she was seven years old owing to extreme poverty in the area her family moved to Milan where my grandfather found a job as a welder in an aircraft factory. After marrying my father she followed him to England where although life was extremely difficult it was still far easier than it had been in Italy. I am interested in genealogy and was frustrated that my mother knew virtually nothing about her history and didn’t even know the names of either of her grandfathers. Thanks to the internet I was able to find someone with her maiden name in Piove Di Sacco and last year on a tour of Italy with my wife we stopped off and met relatives from both sides of her family. I went from knowing virtually nothing about my Italian connection to being given family trees going back to the 1700’s complete with more than our fair share of scandal. I was driven around what is now a large town by a distant cousin with a flashy car and met many other relatives all of whom had good jobs and seem to be comfortably off.
So where is all this going? On our last day in Piove Di Sacco we went to a large supermarket and that’s when the reality of life today really sank home. I would have liked to have set the clock back 65 years and sat my father down in what was a small poverty stricken village and asked him to clarify exactly what was it that he hoped for. To use his own favourite expression in his wildest dreams he would have hoped for a huge shop which had an abundance of affordable food and where no one starved; a free health service, education and decent living conditions for all and an income when people got old or were unable to work. Despite the fact that nearly everything he would have hoped for has come true he still can’t let go of the idea that life was better back then because they had hope.
The world will always be far from perfect but all I can say is I am glad to be alive now rather than in the pre war years living in slums with no hope and the only salvation being a call to war. As for the horrors of the first world war I don’t even want to think about it.