1948 through the eyes of an Englishman

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Dakota's in line to be unloaded.
The BEV Retrospective - 1948.

This was the time of the Berlin airlift. In June 1948, the Russians, in a move characteristic of the rising cold-war tensions at that time, imposed a blockade on the movement of goods in and out of Berlin from the area of Germany under their control - later East Germany. The western allies - The USA, Britain, and France - responded by supporting the inhabitants of West Berlin with goods shipped in by air.

Virtually all consumables had to be flown in to Templehof, Gatow, and Tegel airfields. The later was built for the purpose in 49 days by army engineers and volunteers. Over 2 million tons of supplies - much of that tonnage being coal - were delivered before the blockade ended in May of the following year. Many of the early flights were by the venerable Douglas C47 Dakota, referred to in this period by the German population as Rosinenbomber ("raisin bombers") because some of the crews dropped packets of raisins for the children. Later the C53, a larger 4 engine transport plane took over most of the load. Initially, the flights were buzzed by Soviet fighters, but after President Truman put B29 bombers on standby on British runways, there was no serious interference with the flights.

At about the same time, the first Arab/Israeli war broke out. During the previous year, the United Nations had resolved to break up the then British Mandate of Palestine into two states - an Arab one and a Jewish one. In the period before the partition there was increasing violence between Arabs and Jews, and the various Jewish militias strengthened themselves in anticipation of having to take on the armies of the surrounding Arab states. Finally, on 14th May, the day before the scheduled partition, the Jewish leadership under Ben-Gurion declared the independent State of Israel, which the Arab states promptly invaded. The result of this war was not only the emergence of the State of Israel, but also that around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were forced out of their historical homeland - an exodus whose consequences plague the world to this day.

In Britain, the Labour Government introduced the National Health Service, which was to offer free medical care for everyone in the country. This was only after stiff resistance by the doctor's union and the British Medical Association. Doctors resented the prospect of losing their status as self-employed professionals, who could buy and sell medical practices at will. Initially they resisted the government proposals. Nye Bevan, the health minister, weakened their stance by changing the legislation to allow NHS hospital consultants to treat private patients as well, and so that the doctors would specifically not be salaried civil servants. Then gradually most doctors realized that they were losing money by not participating, and accepted it.

A communist insurgency broke out in this year in Malasia, and a state of emergency was declared there by the British authorities

This was also the time of the recognition of the "baby boom", of which my sister was a harbinger. Almost 200,000 babies were born in Britain in the first quarter of the year. A lot of couples' lives had been on hold for years, and now was the time to start that family.

In the USA, against the all the predictions of the pundits, Harry Truman, who had succeeded President Roosevelt when the latter died in 1945, won election to a second term.

Land Rover Series 1.

The first stored-program binary electronic computer to run was created at the University of Manchester in this year. A stored program machine - EDVAC had already been designed in the USA, but would not be operational until the following year. The Manchester machine was succeeded by the Manchester Mark 1 which later became the Ferranti Mark 1, one of the first commercially produced digital computers.
In a development that would transform computers - in fact all electronics - in the future, US inventor William Shockley, at the Bell Laboratories, did the physics behind and invented the junction transistor. Point contact transistors had been invented the year before at the same laboratory by John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, but they were never much used commercially.
A new genre of motor vehicles arose at this time, the SUV - four wheel drive all-terrain vehicles. In the US these vehicles developed from the ubiquitous military Jeep. In England in this year the first Land Rover was produced, and exhibited at the Amsterdam Motor Show. Since its style would be copied by Nissan and Toyota later, it was the Land Rover line that was to determine the style of these vehicles for some years.

This vehicle was widely adopted by the farming community in the UK, and was exported in quantities to the developing countries. You see plenty of examples where I'm living now that appear to be going on forever.


For my part, after the summer holidays, at school I moved into the next class. There was now some positive education. At that stage it was mostly what you might call enumerations. We learned to count; we learned the letters of the alphabet, the calendar, the colours, the names of the animals and so on. We learned and sang classic English folk songs, and were also now entrusted with powder paint and brushes, and crayons. I used to enjoy that, and thinking retrospectively, I don't know why I didn't do more of it in later life.

The classroom for that year was actually the rear part of the school hall, so on rainy days we had the company of the older classes doing their PT, and at lunch times the rest of the hall doubled as the dining room.

There were school dinners. At our school they were cooked on the premises and served by the dinner ladies. I hated them. They always seemed to comprise slimy mashed potatoes with slimy gravy, tough meat, smelly fish, and unattractive vegetables. The other children would also flick food at you or into your food with their spoons. I would have loved the imposition of some discipline. Sometimes the puddings were OK; you'd occasionally get a half-decent sponge pudding with jam and custard. On the other hand, the custard was a favourite thing to flick - yuk!

I think it was at about this time that John Wordsworth and I were rumbled for exercising our new found swear-words. The school field, where formal games were played, and where we ran around during breaks and at lunchtime, was separated from the road that led to the school by an iron railed fence. There were top and bottom rails with vertical bars in between. On our way home, John and I were walking sideways along the bottom rail, moving our feet between the uprights. On this occasion we were doing this accompanied by a rhythmic repetition of the words "shit, piss, bugger, damn". A neighbour of my mother happened to be passing, and overheard this. When we got home, John and I were greeted by furious mothers, and later when our dads got home we both got a beating on our bare arse with a slipper and sent to bed early: crime and punishment.

At this age, out of school, we got into exploring our surroundings. Cottingley Main Street, where we lived, ran uphill in an east-west direction from Bradford Old Road for about half a mile to where it ended at a farm gate. It was a paved road, mostly lined with 19th century sandstone terrace houses, though there were a few newer houses on the right as you went further up. It more or less formed the southern boundary of the village. On the left, at the junction with Bradford Old Road, there was the Fish and Chip shop - a small wooden building.

Cottingley Village.
More or less opposite that was the sweet shop. Then on the left was the Revel house, opposite which a dirt and stone road angled off obliquely up the hill toward the centre of the village.

This section of the street was level, but then it banked up quite steeply past Cottingley Town Hall - the Methodist chapel and associated buildings - on the left, and a terrace of houses and shops on the right. Here were the barbers shop, and a general store known as Exels, from the name of the couple who owned it.

There was a cross street just after the chapel, which went down the side of the chapel to the left, and into the centre of the village on the right. Then Main Street leveled out briefly, with the terrace of houses where we lived on the left, and a similar terrace on the right. Somewhat past our house, on the right, there was the village Post Office.

Beyond that the road sloped up again past more housing on either side, with a cow pasture field on the left at the top, to the farm.

If you took the right turn by the chapel - Town Hill Street, you came to the Coop (Cooperative Wholesale Society) shop on your left, facing onto another dirt and stone road running parallel to Main Street, and at the top of the oblique road on the opposite side, the butcher's shop on the right. Further along you came to another parallel street - Hollings Street - that ran down onto Bradford Old Road. This set of parallel streets was joined by another street that ran across their upper ends.
You could go further to the north via a snicket from Hollings Street street through to Manor Road, a 1930s road that ran parallel to the others from Bradford Old Road to nowhere. It was lined with semi-detached council houses and the "rec" - an open field that was the village's recreation area. Opposite the snicket was the cul-de-sac that led to the school, imaginatively named School Street. The school field and the rec were adjoining. Beyond the school and the rec, to the north, there were privately owned houses - 'the new estates' - of about the same age as the council houses.

If you took the left turn by the chapel, you'd come first to the back street that served the other side of our back-to-back terrace. The chapel buildings were on the left, with two entrances into the Sunday school, and there were some gardens belonging to the terrace houses beyond the back street on the right. The street sloped down steeply and then ended abruptly at the extent of the chapel buildings. At the end was Cottingley Beck, a shallow stream about ten feet wide that flowed more or less parallel to Main Street.

John and I spent many a happy hour exploring the nearby section of Cottingley Beck. If you turned left, you could wade down the beck in your wellies past the back of the chapel, where there was just a high wall, then past the Revel house and the back of the Fish and Chip shop. Here the beck went through an arched stone culvert under Bradford Old Road, and on the other side into the grounds of Cottingley hall. The grounds were private, and after a few yards the banks of the beck became quite low so that you would be visible across the grounds to the south of the large Victorian house. We went as far as we dared.

If you turned right, you quickly got into a section of the beck where it had cut down into the shale to form a small gorge. There were small seams of almost-coal bedded in the shale, and little springs of rusty coloured water would seep from the shale strata into the beck. We would 'mine' the richer coal seams and take home samples which we then attempted to burn in the coal fire, but it wasn't really up to it.

Further up the beck on the right, above the gorge, were allotments where the villagers grew flowers and vegetables, and in my father's case, kept chickens for the eggs they laid. I was occasionally dispatched to feed the chickens. To get to them by the normal route, you walked up Main Street, and then took a snicket that ran to the left past the end of the last houses. This can't have been more that a quarter of a mile from home, and probably never more than 50 yards from the nearest houses. Nonetheless, I remember that coming back from the allotment I always used to have the feeling that something was following me, and I could get panicky. Strangely enough, wading back down the beck from about the same point never bothered me at all. Down in the little gorge you felt secret and safe.

At about this time the Wordsworth family moved from number 13 Main Street to one of some new council houses on Manor Road, more or less opposite to the rec. Bingley Urban District Council embarked on an extension of Manor Road and the construction of a much larger Council estate on the then open pasture land to the west of the school. As houses got finished, numbers of families from the run down areas of Bingley were moved there, and the children appeared at our school. This somewhat altered the demographics, and parents in the new estates and in the village were suitably put out. John and I would go and watch the builders at work.

Such was the micro world in which we spent our days, and in my memory, the summers were warm, and the winters mild.

The top grossing films in the US were a British film "The Red Shoes" with a plot very loosely based on one of the darker Hans Christian Anderson stories, and "Red River", a John Wayne western with a good deal more plot than average. I believe I have seen "Red River" at some later point, probably on TV, but I can't bring any of it to mind.

Two more adaptations of classics were among the top British films along with "The Red Shoes". Oliver Twist - David Lean yet again, and Hamlet by Laurence Olivier.

Music was distinctly flaky. US chart toppers included "Twelfth Street Rag" by the Pee Wee Hunt band - a number one would you believe?

There was also another of those irritating novelty songs - the theme from the Woody Woodpecker cartoon series. Since I liked those cartoons as a child I can bring myself to mention this one.

The British charts are still inscrutable in this year, and I am not in fact able to tie any British song that I recognize, or for that matter, that I don't recognize, to 1948 - help!

Musically a year that is perhaps best forgotten!

However, it was in this year that the 33.3rpm vinyl record was introduced. This had a playing time of 25 minutes per side as opposed to the 4 minutes per side of the then normal 78rpm shellac discs.

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