There are alive today members of the generation born within a few years of the ceasefire on the western front. The British culture that emerged in those interwar years evolved from the economic and social struggles which were the legacy of the first world war. In the early years of the second world war, that generation responded with a warm welcome to refugees from persecution in Europe. Those early years of war meant that every man, woman and child living in towns and cities had to face the daily threat of a violent death, while the rationing of food, energy and materials reflected equality and mutual help throughout the country. Life was a struggle – but even in adversity, democracy was evident.
Britain was defending human rights that had been built up over centuries, costing the lives of many thousands on the way. This democratic culture has its genesis in Britain; it is an inheritance founded in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. It did not arise from the Magna Carta in 1215 and its derivatives; they were the barons’ charters. Nor did it have its roots in ancient Greece, for its philosophers were then unknown and the city states were slave societies.
Slowly it became established as the desired political system by peoples everywhere. It was the spirit that maintained Britain in its darkest years of the second world war. It was, too, the spirit that founded not only the welfare state in the depths of that war, but afterwards advanced education and planning, and…