Britain’s Greatest Generation

In these, somewhat, depressing times, it is good to be reminded of the culture that used to prevail in this country a mere two generations ago. One that has formed me and, moreover, it’s one that is, even today, more in tune with what I see as heartbeat of the “ordinary” people of this country. Unfortunately, it’s one that the present government seems to have no understanding of whatsoever. It was, as I’ve previously written, encapsulated in that amazing Olympic opening ceremony of a mere three years ago.  In music, it is best described, for me, by Billy Bragg when he sings of “sweet moderation, heart of this nation”. So, why do we have a state of affairs in which those who are already badly off are further penalised as part of deliberate policy, while those who already have are let off more lightly?

Well it could be that I’m completely wrong in my view; that most people really do hold to the mantra, “Sod you, Jack, I’m all right”. I think not and, furthermore, I see evidence all around me that supports my view. That’s not to say that I don’t see examples of the sort of behaviour that I would prefer not to. However, these occur rarely which is exactly why they do stick in my mind. That, I think, demonstrates my thesis. And, before I go any further, yes, I do see a lack of consideration; one that is created by the social conditions that prevail exactly because of those policies.  If, after all, you utilise greed as one of your driving forces and, in doing so, push people to the margins via a system of rewards or penalties that are out of proportion to usefulness and talent, what do you expect?

I have to admit to a personal take on this as, when I left what was called “boy service”, to join the regular army at 18, my report was read out. It included the sentence, “Daligan tends to take the easy way out unless the effort will bring speedy, personal reward”. Now no one who has witnessed my 35 years in the voluntary sector or, indeed, anyone who knows me would, I hope, recognise that description. It came as a response to institutionalised bullying in order to minimise individuality; a regime that I survived through black humour and subversion. I can see how that response could have been misinterpreted by those in authority. I just think that they should have looked a little deeper; they might have discovered the real me. One that my subsequent career has well and truly demonstrated. It seems, however, it suits the government and sections of the tabloid press to label people as, for example, “shirkers” or “strivers”. As, it was for me, those are, I believe, false representations.


In all this, I was heartened last week to watch a programme on “Britain’s Greatest Generation” which featured people from that wartime generation. Their civic responsibility was humbling. Yet, in my occasional talks to schools, I find the young people of today with similar ideals. They have their lives in front of them and I just hope that someone helps them to find “the real me”, taps into their unrealised talents and uses these as the driving force in our society. It will achieve far more than simplistic, sweeping generalisations will ever do.


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