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1946; Britain's "Year Zero"

Discussion in 'Post War 1945-1955' started by GRW, Mar 22, 2013.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    "All anyone talks about is austerity. There's a sense of helplessness — everyone is downcast. Debt is spiralling out of control. People are disconnected from politics and trust in politicians is low.
    There are concerns about unemployment and housing shortages. Juveniles seem to be ungovernable. Food is advertised as one thing, but turns out to be another. Even the weather is bad. What's going on?
    No. I'm not talking about the present day but 1946, one year after the end of World War II and the setting for the new series of Foyle's War, which returns to ITV tomorrow night.

    [SIZE=1.2em]As the writer and creator of the detective drama featuring Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, I've once again been struck by the echoes between now and then.[/SIZE]
    The year 1946 was a difficult one and not only because of the beastly winter that swept in just at a time when the newly nationalised coal industry found itself unable to keep up with demand.
    We had won the war, and you would expect the country to be caught up in one long expression of untrammelled joy. Yet millions of people were beginning to wonder what it had all been about.
    For one thing, signs of destruction were everywhere, with three-quarters of a million houses damaged. Public services were in chaos. Britain's national debt had reached a record £3.5 billion. (In cash terms, it is now £1,189 billion and is predicted to be £1,637 billion in 2017-18.)
    [SIZE=1.2em]I was born in 1955 (1946 babies included the author Philip Pullman, actress Joanna Lumley and politician Jack Straw). While writing, I had to work hard to fight off a sense of gloom and despondency. As always, the series is very much inspired by true stories.[/SIZE]
    The war years had seen that famous 'stiff upper lip' mentality, epitomised by the recently unearthed propaganda posters: 'We can do it!'; 'Keep calm and carry on!'
    But after VJ (Victory over Japan) Day — August 15, 1945 – the mood changed. People seem to have caved in.
    In his superb study of Austerity Britain, A World To Build, David Kynaston tells a story about Churchill campaigning in the 1945 election, which gave Clement Attlee a landslide victory.

    [SIZE=1.2em]Gone were the cheering crowds. As he drove down Royal Avenue, in Chelsea, in the darkness, he found himself utterly alone.[/SIZE]
    In Islington, it was the same, apart from a passing bus. Apparently, Churchill took off his hat and bowed to it. 'Goodnight, bus,' he said.
    As the new government turned its attention to the so-called 'five evil giants' — want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness — the populace had rather more pressing needs.
    Everything was rationed — including bread for the first time. Loaves were cut down in size — a deliberate ploy by the Ministry of Food to make people think they were getting the same amount. (The ruse didn't work.) Chalk was also added to make it look whiter.
    'There was so much chalk in my loaf I didn't know whether to eat it or write with it,' is a line I gave to Sam Stewart, Foyle's former driver.
    There was nothing in the shops. People queued for everything, from shoes to Ovaltine to dried eggs.
    The writer Rupert Croft-Cooke, demobilised and returning to London, noticed how often people were subjected to hectoring displays of petty authority by 'loud-mouthed bullies in uniform'. It all added to an anti-government feeling."
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2297836/Now-really-WAS-austerity-Bread-bulked-chalk-debt-spiralling-If-think-weve-got-tough-today-think-says-writer-new-series-Foyles-War-set-1946.html#ixzz2OK0SGRj1
     
  2. scipio

    scipio Member

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    And a strong Anti-American feeling which is not mentioned.

    Whatever the truth of the situation, Lend-lease had ended abruptly and assets and reserves had long gone. Britain always imported half its food and export markets had completely disappeared.

    Yet Britain had the task of feeding the starving Germans in the most populous, least agricultural and most destroyed part of Germany - the Ruhr

    As far as the populace was concerned, America still wanted a "pound" of flesh for a Loan.

    My father can still complain about this - Truman was not popular.

    According to him Canada was the only true friend - generous when we needed help.
     
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  3. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Yep we were in a financial mess..with obligations to match worldwide...Financially brought to our knees almost. Total war had taken our all in goods and finances as well as the blood spilled...We had geared ourselves in the last few years to one aim and one only..And yet at the end and in a bitter winter...Our parents and grandparents victory probably did not seem so much like any other victory. For a nation to take on what it did after 1939 and ignore all peaceful ways out and to commit itself to an end result no matter the danger or losses, and to bankrupt ourselves helping to save others as well as ourselves...victory must have been very bitter tasting.
     
  4. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    Not to mention food rationing lasted to 1954, and Irgun, Haganah and the Stern gang were continuing their campaign against British forces in Palestine.
     
  5. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    As with everything there are two sides, and in this case more than two perhaps.

    That victory for Great Britain may have had a bitter after taste is understandable, but it would have to had paled in comparison to that left in the mouths of France, the Benelux, Poland and the Balkan's can not be denied. They suffered occupation and severe fighting over their homelands to secure their freedom, which the United Kingdom never lost.

    It should also be noted that both during and after the war US military and diplomatic personel infused hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars into the local economies of Great Britain. This alone did much to help keep the wartime UK economy in at least some measure of balance.

    This does not take account of the Post war Marshall plan.

    From 1948 to 1951 the US infused nearly 3.3 Billion dollars worth of aid into the United Kingdom, and nearly another 9.5 Billion into the economies of her European neighbors. Both the direct aid to Britain and the indirect aid to European counterparts greatly arrested the hard econimic times felt and allowed them to recover where the Soviet Bloc stagnated.

    And to be fair to Truman, most of it arrived in His administation.

    It would have been better had it been more timely, but we too had to transition from a war economy to that of peacetime, and there is no shame to looking to the welfare of your own before that of your neighbor.

    On a more delicate issue, I feel honor bound to point out that many of Britain's post war economic woes were self inflicted.

    To put it bluntly Great Britain (Churchill most of all) could not accept giving up the impression, some might go so far as to say Illusion, that they were a "Great Power" equal to the US and USSR. Certainly as measured by military power they were close, but steadily drifting to the rear in third place. It was her core, however that was definitely showing signs of coruption and decay.

    How much mony and industry was spent by Great Britain in the last year of the war that had little or no impact on its outcome?

    Post war Britain would scrap 15 Battleships and one Battlecrusier (plus two inconplete BB's), but I have to ask did they need all of them. Vanguard and the two unfinished ones seem a monumental waste of money. This was extended to all facets of British military production in the last year of the war.

    How many aircraft of first class design were either scrapped outright of crated up and buried without ever seeing the enemy in battle? The Centurian was a superb design, but had absolutely no impact on the defeat of Germany.

    In early 1944 the writing was on the wall for both Germany and Japan. Britain could have started to slowly retool both her industry and economy for peace by either ending or at least slowing the pace of War production. I seriously doubt America would have objected and could have easily made up any shortfall in British stocks.

    There was no need, and little desire on the part of the US, for a British Pacific Fleet serving along side the USN. Could not the expence have gone elsewhere? In reality was this more a matter of pride on the part of "John Bull" to prove that they were still a player on the world stage?

    Lastly the post war political and military commitments made to preserve the Empire of old did much to rape an already over stretched economy.

    America and the world in general benefited greatly from all that Britain did in the war and after, but much of her "hard times" were created by Britain with her eyes wide open and she was never really left at the alter by any ally.
     
  6. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    as always belasar you can expect a frank and full answer to your post as there are two sides to what you mention too. im off out so i for one will have to reply tomorrow mate.
     
  7. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    A lot of truth there. I think a lot of people felt bitter that their former enemies were getting more Marshall Aid money than we did, even if they deserved it.
    Britain was more interested in keeping up the Empire Preference scheme when it came to trade, even forging new trading links with the US in preference to Europe. That just meant we were hit harder by the 1947 Dollar crisis than most other countries-
    http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/themes/financial-aid-union-support.htm
     
  8. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Actually according to Wiki, no nation got more (Marshall Plan aid) than the United Kingdom. Now if you combine Germany, Austria, Italy and Trieste they are nearly equal.
     
  9. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    As always I look forward to what I know will be an excellent and well reasoned rebuttal.
     
  10. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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  11. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Wow, worse than I thought.
     
  12. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Apologies Belasar...I will not be responding at this time in this thread. After the news and my latest posting on Clint's illness, it would or may just seem like Yank bashing, And I don't do that. I may disagree with lots, as you do with the UK but we don't bash. And I don't want anyone thinking I am bashing yanks. I may respond at a later date. But I will just put a link up to an article in the Oxford history series that explains my own thoughts on this period in exactitude.
     
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  13. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Not a problem urqh. I was not intending any "Brit" bashing, merely offering a counter opinion.

    If I were to expand upon this, I freely admit that the US government in the last generation has made very similar mistakes in re-guard to acting upon the short term without looking to the greater needs of the long term.

    Representative government is the best form, but it has its flaws and playing to the cheap seats over the needs of the whole has killed as many democracies as tyrants.
     
  14. scipio

    scipio Member

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    I thoroughly understand and support Urgh's support for Clint and will not indulge in long debate but before we leave the topic entirely I think we do have to return back to the original date - 1946. I was also very sorry to hear of the death of Craig Burke - another very sad event.

    The thoughts I expressed were basically my Father's - British Army machine gunner from 1939 to 1946 ending up in the unpleasantness of Palestine.

    Britain received no aid. The Americans were playing very hard ball.

    The British had not reckoned on Japan being defeated as quickly as it was and had not expected the immediate end to the Lend-Lease. Lend-Lease, essential in the short term, was a long term disaster for the British Economy.

    The British had been expected that Keynes was going to Washington to obtain an interest free loan.

    But the business of America is "business" and the Loan came with a 3% interest - finally repaid in 2006.

    Despite British disagreement, America forced the British to accept Dollar/Pound convertibility, which was disaster - "the Dollar Shortage" .


    Belasar - you forget that in the 1946, the Soviet threat was very real and the British were terrified that the Yanks would all go home leaving Britain to the tender embrace of Uncle Joe.


    The turnaround and Marshall Aid came later when the US recognized the Soviet Threat and that there was only one Army and Navy capable of even slowing a Russian onslaught in Europe - the British.


    An enormous Military budget and large Armed Forces was still required from Britain as the only combatant available - don't forget that Italy looked as if it would turn Communist and the the Strong Communist party in France was achieving 30% of the popular vote. With 40% of the British GDP Spent on the Military and a very large standing army based in Germany, Marshall Aid was essential and in American interest

    The destiny of Britain was entirely in American hands - and the "mistake" of sending as few Aircraft Carriers (performed pretty well, by the way!) to the Pacific does not change this, although I do agree there is some merit in your contention that Churchill and the British believed they were still a world power.

    (The US would have preferred that the Russians had not bothered either but all the agreements were made before Truman had his A Bombs and their efficacy proven - if the Japanese had not surrendered, then I suggest the US would have welcomed any extra support British, Russian or Serbo-Croat.)
     
  15. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Again I intend no disrespect or bashing of Britain, but I do think that that a British only perspective of a mutual arrangement is being posited here.

    First the original Lend-Lease agreement had been approved by the US Congress for the duration of the war, and its end should not have come as some out of the blue surprise to Britain. Did no one in Britain Read the act? The US had provided a total of 50 Billion in aid to all combatants (31 Billion to Britain [25 Billion if reverse L-L is factored]) without any expectation of it being re payed. Hardly a mercenary act. We also allowed Britain to use this aid to buy Canadian goods to be sent to Britain, thus further aiding the Commonwealth system.

    When the aid did end, some not yet dispersed or in the pipeline was sold to Britain at little more than 10 cents on the dollar. Not as generous as Lend-Lease, but a bargain by any standard.

    The Post War loan forgave the remaining post-war Lend-Lease balance of some 650 million dollars, while it does not sound like much now, but is equal to about 6 to 7 Billion in today's dollars. The loan it self, 3.75 Billion from the US and 1.2 Billion from Canada was for 2%, Not 3 %, and the terms were identical from Both counties.

    Your father might have thought the US wore the Black hat here, but if so, then Canada's must have been a very Charcoal Grey.

    2% interest, with a 50 year payment plan that allowed the Lendee to suspend payments anytime they wished (as Britain did during six years) is a pretty good deal over all. In fact, later British governments would call it a favorable, even advantageous, agreement for Britain.

    The Conversion of the Sterling was delayed by a year after ratification of the loan and was not intended to be harmful, even though it did have that effect. But I should point out that large scale loans often have conditions, and looking at Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Cyprus today should be illustrative.

    With this loan in place America still gave considerable Marshall plan aid to Britain.

    As Gordon's links suggest, that once given, either the Loan or later Marshall Plan Aid, Britain did not use these as wisely to rebuild their economies as compared to other nations like Germany or France. In essence they got less bang for their buck, despite getting the most bucks. This seems to be echoed in the revenue gain from their North Sea oil platforms.

    I must also quibble with the inference that America turned its back on Britain and offer that the situation is considerably more complex.

    America, like Britain had to transition to a Peace economy and doing so meant significant disruption to its own population. Illegal workers, welcomed during wartime were summarily rounded up and deported. African-American, woman, and other minorities were pushed out of the workplace to make room for returning servicemen. Two or more income families became single income households.

    On the political side, America was drifting more to the right and Truman would win a very tight election in '48 (one many thought he would lose), and the Democrats would lose the office in 1952.

    America was also adjusting to the need to be an international world power, with deployments in every corner of the globe. This was a considerable departure from America's previous attitude. In short, we could not look over Britain's shoulder to make sure their "homework" was correct in every respect. They had to presume that Britain was looking at their commitments and assets and judging what they could do over what they wanted to do, as we were.

    According to Wiki, the British Pacific Fleet consisted of 6 Fleet Carriers, 4 Light Carriers, 9 Escort Carriers, 4 Battleships,11 Cruisers, 35 Destroyers and a considerable number of smaller ships. This is, as far as I can tell the largest concentration of the Royal Navy for any single operation save perhaps Overlord. Yes they preformed superbly as always, but hardly "a few Carrier's".
     
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  16. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    No arguments there. The old "We-won-the-war-so-we-don't-need-to-change-a-thing" attitude lasted into the '70s here.
     
  17. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    The American Version being, "we won the Cold war so we don't need to change a thing".

    History does repeat itself.
     
  18. Coder

    Coder Member

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    There seems to be come serious confusion. The dreadful post-WW2 winter was early 1947, not 1946, and it did coincide with the coming into force of coal nationalisation, but that was on 1 January 1947, not 1946. It is difficult to understand why these two events are mentioned under the heading "1946", other than to deliberately mislead the incautious reader. No-one blamed the government for the winter, any more than anyone blamed the government for the 1963 winter, the only comparable one since, when snow lay continuously on the ground for weeks on end because the temperature never rose to allow a thaw.

    It is true that bread was rationed for a relatively short period (whereas it had never been rationed during the war), but reducing the size of the loaf was rather different: it was decreed that the standard 1 lb loaf would henceforth be 14 oz, and other loaves in like proportion, on the basis that consumers would cut the same number of slightly smaller slices and not really notice the reduction. As to whether it "worked" or not, the new standard sizes remained in force decades after austerity was forgotten - until in relatively modern times a new decree ordained that bread should be sold only in metric sizes - 400 and 800 gm. I know nothing of the chalk in bread story; at the beginning of the war, in the interests of health and economy, bakers were forbidden to make what is necessarily artificial white bread by removing grain essentials and adding whitening, so that nominally "white" bread was actually greyish. If is possible that changed regulations post-war permitted addition of chalk, but if that was the case it is only because of an alleged "demand" for white bread. Consumers of wholemeal bread, like myself, never had any such problem.

    It is not true that "everything" was rationed.- fruit and vegetables, for example. As to "queues for everything", the whole point was that rationing prevented the need for queues on a "first come first served basis", because you were entitled to your rations whebever you called at the shop.

    There is much that could be written about austerity Britain, but let us at least get the facts right.

    In the first episode of the new series of Foyle's War there was a disturbing incident displaying a shocking ignorance of fact. Two officials discussed the possibility of an agent leaking official secrets to the Soviets, and one commented that it could be construed as treason, and everyone knew the penalty for treason. In fact, treason comprises giving aid and comfort to the Sovereign's enemies in time of war, and since neither during WW2 nor since has the UK been at war with the Soviet Union, it would have been impossible to construe any such betrayal as "treason". All such "leaks" in relation to the Soviet Union led to prosecutions under the Official Secrets Acts 1911 and 1920, and it is difficult to understand why two intelligent and educated civil servants were made in the episode to appear ignorant fools.
     
  19. Coder

    Coder Member

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    The year 1946 was a difficult one and not only because of the beastly winter that swept in just at a time when the newly n
     
  20. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    yes indeed the winter was 47. Of course not being in a good financial place did not help with stocks, transport or the utility means to fight a bad winter leading on into 47. Finance did not cause the weather...it did not help to allieviate the weather from a bad financial position either.
     

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