Vital Signs

Postwar Oxford

It was an interesting time. The Second World War had gone on two years longer than the First, with resultant fatigue in England's industrial north, which gave the Labour government its 1945 landslide. Such is admirably explained in Corelli Barnett's The Audit of War, which shows how the appeal of the shadow Attlee government, particularly the full employment, cradle-to-grave promises of the Beveridge Plan, was understandably irresistible to this element, as it was also to the services underclass, war-weary and longing for demobilization. No politician, not even Churchill, could be against a guarantee of employment, any more than could a French politician be, two years later, for legal prostitution. But I can certainly testify that in late 1948, when I was working as press officer for ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries), and I visited 120 factories throughout the British Isles, ranging in products from plastics to paints to explosives, not forgetting a wonderful salt mine in Cheshire, almost without exception I was told by my hosts that the resident shop stewards were militandy Communist. They were the only men who would sacrifice their spare time for the task of organization and, after all, Russia was an ally.

Those of us who had been "up" at Oxford before the war—and by Oxford I also mean "the other place," Cambridge—got preference in demobilization via the so-called "B" release....

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