Keep Calm and Read the Reuters News
Last year my father passed away at the grand old age of 93, leaving myself and my siblings the family home in South East London that my parents had lived in since they got married in 1945. His wish was that we should do it up before we sell it (he didn’t want any of it doing while he was living in it – we even had to fight to get the double glazing done). So, we are now modernising it to put in central heating, a fitted kitchen and redecorating throughout.
In the process of lifting the flooring in most of the rooms we found an amazing batch of old newspapers which had been used as underlay beneath the carpets! Most were from 1944, 1945, 1947 & 1960, and so made really interesting reading – it actually felt like you were reading first hand about the war and got a real feel of what it was like to live during those times. It was also interesting to discover that a lot of the articles were written by Reuters correspondents!
There was an article by a reporter who went with the RAF (Royal Air Force) on a raid on a munitions factory in Germany, and the description of seeing the explosions below him and how they got caught up in enemy fire on their return journey. It really made you feel like you were there and you could sense the immense fear in his words. Another paper was from the day after the Auschwitz concentration camp had been discovered, and the sheer horror of the initial findings was heart-wrenching and sickening. Headlines such as ‘Cannibalism In Camp of 22,000 Men’ as the liberation of the camp progressed, said it all.
Another article that immediately caught our attention was headlined ‘Himmler Commits Suicide’ and the report below it really showed how much this man was hated. For example, although they were talking about his dead body, they just referred to him as ‘it’.
The air-raids in London featured heavily and black market cigarettes and fake ration books were the main UK crimes. One man who was found in possession of 5,000 packs of US Army ration cigarettes was fined £150 – back then that was A LOT of money (the average house cost about £500).
The adverts were either eye-opening, or just plain funny. Cigarette ads told you how X brand was ‘better for you’ than the others as it had more flavour, National Savings ads told you to “Let’s save as hard as they fight” with a picture of a RAF fighter pilot, and, if you had a “Lovable Child?” you should give it Ostermilk (hmmm…what did you give it if it was a little brat I wonder?)
I have to say I honestly think I have learnt more about the war and what life was like around that time through reading these newspapers than I’ve ever learnt from TV, Films or even history books. The early 60′s papers seemed to contain more political stories and adverts for flights and holidays abroad – some even more expensive than they are today.
Throughout all those years though, sport still featured on either the back page or the previous one – even if it was just the football or cricket scores. I even noticed that Nottingham Forest were in Division 1 – in those days that was the best! …that shows how old they are.