JANUARY 22, 1946
LONDON—Since I have been here, I have been interested in comparing the wartime London I saw in 1942 and the peacetime London of 1946.
Almost everyone speaks to you of one great change—the blackout is over! However, though everybody extols the wonders of light, one has to confess that there really isn't a great deal of illumination in the streets of London at night. Of course, it is better than it was when no one could even light a match without being ordered to put it out, but it is not Broadway, New York!
Many of the newspapers are still only four pages. It is quite evident that paper is still extremely scarce, and I marvel, just as I did before, at how much the news can be condensed.
Now to some of the other aspects of life in this great city. When I was here in 1942, London had gone through the Blitz and the great fire which had swept the heart of the city. Around Saint Paul's, there was empty space wherever you looked. Since then, more bombs, including the V-1 and V-2 bombs, have added to the destruction.
I got some figures which were given out by the Ministry of Works last June. London has about 2,200,000 dwellings, and it was estimated that, of that number, about three-fourths received some kind of damage. In the London civil-defense region, over 100,000 dwellings were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. In ten months, over 1,000,000 houses were damaged by rockets and flying bombs.
As rapidly as possible, repairs have been made, but these have been hampered by lack of materials and lack of manpower.
To really understand what the above figures mean, we have to translate them into human misery. Much of the damage was in the poorer parts of London. Though these sections have small houses, nevertheless they teem with human beings. It is true that many families have been moved to other places, but the percentage of people who have been moved is not as great as the percentage of homes destroyed, which means that people have doubled up in the available living quarters in a way which must be a great strain on the nerves and must create bad health conditions.
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As to the clothes situation, utility clothes are still the main garments that can be purchased by the average woman. They were just coming in when I was here before. They are made to government specification, are under rigid price control, and are not subject to a purchase tax.
They are cheap, whereas uncontrolled luxury garments, with a high purchase tax, are very expensive. And even if you have the money to buy them, you may not have the points. No matter who you are, you have only 24 clothing coupons for a period of eight months.
A dress takes eleven coupons, a slip five, a girdle (when you can find one) five points, a pair of stockings three (and they are hard to find). A winter coat takes eighteen points, gloves two, a tailored suit eighteen, a blouse five.
It is easy to see from this list that to get one outfit a year would probably cost you more than your allotment of points. So the British women look as though they had worn their clothes for some time and I don't believe they enjoy it any more than American women would.
Towels, curtain material, all materials by the yard and knitting wool all cost points. A young married couple have an advantage in that they are given extra points, because it is presumed that they are starting from scratch.
In America, my mother-in-law's generation bought in greater quantities than we do at present because they often had more space in which to keep things. Over and over again, since I have been here, I have hoped that the older generation of British people also laid up stores of goods because, without such things put away years ago, I don't see how they have managed to get along during these past few years.
Even in our hotel, I notice that the old man-sized bath towels are cut in half, and all the linen is worn!