“Profiteering seems to be the latest stunt”

The male friends of the Dodeka Club in Reading discussed what would be called spivs in the Second World War – people who abused the regulations to make money.

The 304th meeting of the Club was held at Cresswell’s on Friday 7th Nov 1919…

Cresswell then read a short paper on Profiteering. “Profiteering”, he said, “seems to be the latest stunt, & like most other varieties of this breed is the victim of exaggeration. No doubt in many cases advantage has been taken of the situation & too high prices have been charged, but when one looks at reports of the Tribunals the trivial results are far from convincing that the real culprits have been found.”

He referred to the unfairness of selecting one particular article from a varied stock & saying only so much profit should be charged upon it, when other goods in the same shop do not bear the same profit as the tribunal decides is reasonable for the article complained about, & stated that from some of the decisions of the tribunals, which have been published, it is doubtful whether they are sufficiently alive to what is really a fair profit as affecting a certain article or a certain trade to appreciate the difference in articles & trades…

Cresswell concluded his remarks with the belief that the chief way of bringing about lower prices will be by increased production & in consequence more competition based on a fair living profit will right many of the evils existing today.

An interesting and at times warm discussion followed. It was apparent that members were fully of the opinion that profiteers do exist even if there are none amongst the members of the Club.

Dodeka Club minutes (D/EX2160/1/4)

Any selfishness of any class must stand in the way of real peace and happiness at home

The vicar of Newbury urged a generous spirit in rebuilding national life, and thought servicemen should have first call on all jobs.

The long hoped for signing of the Peace Treaty has taken place, and the Nation has joined together in humble and hearty thanksgiving to Almighty God for His great and undeserved mercies. It is impossible to imagine from what horrors we have been saved by His goodness, and through the willing sacrifice of so many of our splendid men, and the courage and energy of millions, both men and women. If the terms imposed by the Allies on Germany seem hard they would have been nothing to the terms they would have imposed on us if they had won, and for generations our Country would not have recovered, if ever it did recover. Thanks be to God for His mercy to us.

And now we have to reconstruct our National Life. That is no easy task, and it calls for the spirit of willing co-operation and sacrifice from all classes. Any selfishness of any class must stand in the way of real peace and happiness at home. It is the duty surely of employers to give returned soldiers and sailors the first chance of employment, even if it means displacing someone else, and those who have fought and endured should have no just cause for grievances. The Government will have to put down profiteering with a strong hand, and should also severely punish the professional agitator and “him that stirreth up strife among brethren”. While all of us should do our best to spread the spirit of love and service. God has been gracious to us and now it is for us to prove ourselves worthy of His favour.

Sunday, July 6th, was observed as a day of Thanksgiving for Peace, and the services were well attended. The Municipal and National rejoicings took place on July 19th. There was unfortunately a lot of rain, and the children’s tea had to take place in different buildings instead of all together on the Cricket Field. The Procession in London must have been a magnificent sight.

The War Memorial Committee have had two meetings lately, the first with Mr C O Skilbeck to advise them, and the second with Mr Cogswell for the same purpose. They hope soon to have a design from the latter to put before the congregation and parishioners.

Newbury parish magazine, August 1919 (D/P89/28A/14)

Sick at the thought of how we are being let down at Versailles today!

John Maxwell Image was not optimistic about the future. His wounded brother in law was our friend Percy Spencer.

29 Barton Road
7 May ‘19

My dearest old man

Florence … wants to see her wounded brother who is still at St Thomas’s Hospital, poor fellow.

I feel sick at the thought of how we are being let down at Versailles today! Especially at the ingratitude of Belgium, and of Italy – the latter I have heard vigorously defended here. But Belgium!

And the Agitators in Britain!

And Shinn [sic] Fein impudence!

What a future lies before every one in England except the moneygrubber and the Profiteer and their lickspittles.


Tuissimus
Bild

Letter from John Maxwell Image, Cambridge don, to W F Smith (D/EX801/2)

“It was 60 to 100 at Lloyd’s yesterday there would be peace before Xmas”

Everyone could see the war coming to an end – even the German PoWs.

St Marys, Oct 31 [1918] Hallows Eve

My own darling own

Yesterday… a man called Savage with his wife quite intend on taking this place and if possible buying it. Evidently a very rich man in war profits having to do with all insurance societies, Lloyd’s included, & he told me it was 60 to 100 at Lloyd’s yesterday there would be peace before Xmas….

Meantime the papers are an hourly unrolling of great scrolls of prophecy fulfilled, and to be having a part in it must be a wonderful feeling, and how I long to talk to you, and how I long for the evening papers with news, if any, from Paris. I dread Bolshevik risings, and spread of that disease with Prussianism a fallen God? It is a tremendous thing to think what is in the hands of those few brains at Paris, and I cling to the knowledge that two at least there are with belief in the Eternal Righteousness revealed as Divine Love to those who follow Christ and company with him in sacrifice for the sake of that Righteousness? It must be hard to go on fighting with the world all crumbling that has opposed that righteousness, and it seems as if it – the victory – was already decided.

The news from Italy is glorious, and then Hungary & Austria & Turkey, and with the little bits of news coming in from the Danube – these waterways and tributaries in silence or in spate determining the way of victory. Well – here I watch our little road and the village passers by, and the trees getting bare, but still some golden glow slimes in at the window, and the only thing in touch with the war are the German prisoners no longer bursting with spirits & laughter and talk, but they look grim….

There is a great deal of mild flu about, and some measles, but I have heard of no bad cases so far. I have no sign of flu, only a very little cold of which I take quite abnormal care, & eat formamint lozenges without end….

Archdeacon Moore has resigned – and I am sorry – one of the few gentlemen left in that changing diocese where everything is going on socialistic lines, and I am so unhappy about poor dear Norman Lang, & cannot imagine what his future is to be when the 6 months at the front are over – & will he be needed there 6 months.

Do take care of yourself – send for formamint lozenges & have eucalyptus & a good tonic?

I suppose John will be all right. Maysie is moving to 6 Hill Street, Knightsbridge…

All my love, darling
Own Mur

Lady Mary Glyn to her son Ralph (D/EGL/C2/5)

Down with Capitalism, Militarism, and War!

Advertisements for local left wing parties reveal a lesser known aspect to local life including attitudes to the war.

The Independent Labour Party
is an International Socialist Party. Down with Capitalism, Militarism, and War! Up with Socialism and the Brotherhood of all nations!

National Socialist Party, Reading branch.

All unattached SOCIALISTS are invited to join the above branch, the members of which recognise the necessity of the success of the Allied Forces in the present struggle to ensure the early realisation of Democracy and Socialism.

British Socialist Party
is opposed to Imperialism, Capitalism, and war, and is working for an immediate peoples’ peace.

The Voice of Labour Is like one crying in the wilderness. It is crying out against High Prices: it is crying out for more wages by which to pay the high prices: it is crying out against the people who are making the prices high. These people do not heed the cry, they meet the demand for more wages then just put a little more on the goods than they have paid in extra wages.

Give up crying out and do something!

The people must –

Control raw material.
Control production.
Control prices,

For the benefit of the whole community.

The only way – join the Co-Op.
The Stores that are owned and controlled by the Members, and do your duty.

The National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers
125 Friar Street

The Reading Branch, in conjunction with many others, is demanding that the Government shall increase the separation allowance to soldiers’ and sailors’ wives and their dependants owing to the increased cost of living; also that discharged men should be more fully represented on Pension Committees and other bodies dealing with such matters. Lord Rhondda on his death-bed sent this message to the Natioanl Baby Week. “The care of the children is a sacred duty.” How can the wives left at home to keep the home fires burning feed and clothe the babies on the present miserable allowance? We want all discharged men to join us to help us in this good work. Also to wake up the Pensions Ministry. A member speaking in the House of Commons said, “There are 2000 clerks at Chelsea dealing with 12000 pension cases weekly. That means one case per day for each clerk, yet it often takes twelve to fourteen months to get a man’s case settled.” Come along to help us to get a move on.

The Reading Worker: The Official Journal of Organised Labour in Reading and District, no. 21, September 1918 (D/EX1485/10/1/2)

Statements about food prices not calculated to make people less irritable in these trying times

Rising food prices were a big problem.

Matters of Public Interest

I hear rumours that [the paper] will have to stop publication because of the shortage of paper and the resulting increased cost of production. I understand that the cost has more than doubled, and that the charge of 1d per copy has somewhat decreased sales…

We are informed that it is quite essential that the price of meat should be raised, yet farmers are saying that butchers are making exceedingly large profits at their expense, and there was some rather strong talk only a month or two ago that the price of meat ought to have been two or three pence per pound less, and that bacon could be sold at 1s per pound to 1s 6d and still make a fair profit. These statements, whether true or false, are not calculated to make people less irritable in these trying times, and all tend to justify the dissatisfaction that is felt by workers at the exorbitant prices they have to pay…

Prices soar, and in order to pay them the workers struggle to obtain higher wages, and are abused for so doing, whilst the profiteer goes on his way rejoicing, because in spite of increases of wages, the relative position of the wage earner in this town, whatever may be the case in munitions areas, remains much the same on the average, in spite of increases and war bonuses which have been obtained. The old economic law of Capitalism, supply and demand, continues to operate in spite of the restriction imposed by Acts of Parliament and Departmental Orders, and owing to the comparative shortage of labour, the workers have found their struggle to force wages to some degree of equality with the increase of prices a little easier than in normal times. Still the old class war continues, as in the nature of things it is bound to do as long as the two classes of wage payers and wage receivers continues to exist. There can be only one ending, i.e. the abolition of the wages system in its entirety….

There is no doubt that during this war it would have been better for the workers as a whole (and a higher real wages [sic] would have been obtained) if they had devoted most of their efforts to keeping down prices and reducing profits rather than to securing higher wages and war bonuses.

The Reading Worker: The Official Journal of Organised Labour in Reading and District, no. 21, September 1918 (D/EX1485/10/1/2)

“Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki”

Percy had gone on ahead of his unit to arrange billets in the French countryside.

June 19 [1918]
My dear WF

I like this place. Far away from my battalion and the plague of khaki, here I am billeting – at least I was yesterday.

Today I’m just waiting for my people to turn up.

I like the chateau with its monster lime trees – one, the largest I have ever seen. And I like the big farmer who took me into a direct current from his styes and there held me in lengthy conversation – and the old ladies apparently born in strait waistcoats who hold one spellbound for hours in a flood of patois out of which one thing only is clear – they require an exorbitant price for what they are pleased to call an officers’ mess.

The postman, fat & aged, is refreshing too. His cheerful announcement of letters & postcards with all details and contents of the letter is good to the heart. His cheery good day to me as I passed and request for a cigarette & explanation that tobacco is very scarce went straight to my cigarette case.

And then there is M. le Maire, schoolmaster & umpteen other things, who left his overalled charges to show me billeting matters and give me lengthy explanations only pausing to hurl corrections across the courtyard to the schoolroom, where one of the boys was reading aloud.

And then there is Madame at the estaminet where I have my temporary headquarters, who provides me with an interminable reserve of eggs and coffee, and constant shocks. The climax was reached when I asked for milk, and taking a homely bedroom utensil [a chamberpot!], she drew therein a supply from her little goat and served me liberally therefrom.

And that’s my village.

With my dear love to you both

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/7/47-49)

“We do not want to reconstruct with a pair of scissors, or with a paste-pot and a lump of putty, but with a pick-axe!”

Reading leftwingers hoped for a big change in life after the war.

Reading Branch ILP

We have held one good meeting at Workers’ Hall on Sunday, November 25, when W N Ewer gave an interesting and useful address on “The Work of the ILP during the coming period of Reconstruction”. The speaker was careful to point out that “Reconstruction” does not mean the methods of hedging and trimming generally associated with the two political parties, but a real system of “Revolution”; or, as he put it, we do not want to reconstruct with a pair of scissors, or with a paste-pot and a lump of putty, but with a pick-axe!…

At our branch meetings we have discussed many subjects including “Fusion of the ILP and BSP”, “Militarism in the Schools”, “Food Profiteering”, “Trade Unionism at the Cross Roads”, and the “Censorship of Leaflets”.

The Reading Worker: The Official Journal of Organised Labour in Reading and District, no. 13, January 1918 (D/EX1485/10/1/1)