Daventry columnist remembers rationing, the creation of the NHS and the joy of his family's first television set

Here's our latest 'Our Generation' column, written by members of Daventry U3A.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 12:40 pm
Making the most of rationed sweets. Picture: Getty Images.

This month, Lyn Puleston shares his thoughts on post-war Britain.

Lyn was born in 1937 and lives in Daventry District. He is married to Brenda and they have two children.

"You would have to have been born before 1942 to remember the years of the war. But many in their 70s remember the post war years.

Lyn Puleston.

"After the war ended in Europe, the Labour Party demanded that there should be a general election against Churchill's wishes. This took place in July with a landslide victory for Labour with Attlee as prime minister. One of his first tasks was to return to the Potsdam conference where only Stalin had been present at Yalta when the future of Europe had been decided.

"Attlee took with him Ernie Bevin, his foreign secretary who was no push over. On one occasion Stalin complained to Attlee that Bevin was bullying him, to which Attlee replied: “Then he is doing a good job”.

"The post war years were of austerity with continuing rationing of food, clothes, coal and petrol. Most things were in short supply. I well remember the very cold winter of 1947 when we were snowed up for two months.

"Then there was the Cold War with our erstwhile ally the Soviet Union. The Berlin Airlift was a particularly dangerous time. However, the USA had the advantage with nuclear weapons, but in 1949 the USSR exploded its own nuclear bomb. If anything, the cold war got colder until Stalin died in 1953. After that, things began to change.

Enjoying the early days of television. Picture: Getty Images.

"Foreign holidays were almost impossible as the amount of foreign currency you could take with you was limited to £25. It was not possible to buy a new car unless you were someone who needed it for your work. I particularly remember sweet rationing being lifted, only to be reimposed a year later. Also, the announcement of the devaluation of pound to 2.8 dollars to the pound. The austerity that we experienced in the past ten years is but nothing compared to the late forties and early fifties.

"There were of course some bright spots.

"The creation of the NHS which for many was a lifeline, also there were other new benefits for the poorer members of society. There was plenty of work to do and unemployment was very low.

"In 1948 Britain hosted the Olympic games at Wembley. They were called the 'Austerity Games'. They were in complete contrast to the previous games in 1936 hosted by Germany. Neither Germany nor Japan were invited to partake. Stalin refused to allow the USSR to take part. I particularly remember two athletes. Bob Mathias, an American who won the Decathlon, and 30-year-old Dutch housewife Fanny Blanker-Koen who won four gold medals when she was three months pregnant. The Dutch government rewarded her with a new bicycle. In 1999 she was declared the athlete of the century.

Clement Attlee. Picture: Getty Images.

In 1948 the government introduced National Service for young men over 18, except it was not for all. There were the unfit, and there were reserved occupations. miners, railway and dock workers, agricultural workers and teachers. Young women were not required to do it. It was at a time when there was no consideration for gender equality. Perhaps to make things more equal the women should have been required to work in the NHS which was founded at just about the same time.

In 1953 there was the coronation, we got a television, my father was able to buy a new car, rationing finally ended in 1954, my brother doing his National Service got his commission.

"Times got easier and happier for my family. I still remember a friend of my parents loaning us their house on the Lizard where we had a lovely holiday in Cornwall.

"They were days I will never forget."