Russell E. Hershey,
INTERVIEW WITH DORIS BOOTMAN
INTERVIEWER: Doris, I'd like to take you back to election results day...
DORIS BOOTMAN: July 26, 1945. Well, one of the sort of things to remember about that is that we hadn't the present-day immediate contact over radio, TV and the rest, so that we'd been waiting three weeks for results. We knew they were going to be coming out that day, but we went off to work, those of us who were in work. And in my own factory, up on the maintenance office, they had a small portable radio, so up three flights of iron stairs one went every half hour to see what was the latest news, came down and passed it round to the other offices and the other factory, which was four miles out of Wolverhampton, the other way, and then went back upstairs. So that my recollection of July 26 is going madly up and down flights of stairs, and every time collecting more and more amazing information. In our own immediate area, we had a young candidate, name of Hughes, released from the army for the campaign, and he was easily elected, replacing Sir Robert Bird who'd been our previous Conservative MP. And in our immediate area the same thing was happening. We were Wolverhampton West. Jenny Leigh was running for Cannock, which was an odd, almost horseshoe-shaped constituency around part of Wolverhampton, and she of course went in easily with the miners' v-vote. Similarly, surrounding areas were returning Labor MPs.
INT: What was the mood as you were running up and down those stairs - was it expected; were people jubilant, were they surprised? How were they reacting? And why were you indeed given this time off to go running up and down the stairs?
DB: Well, I worked on what was called "progress", so my time was virtually my own. I had to produce results somehow, and I had...a rather helpful boss. I think most of us expected to win some seats. For one thing, I walked home every night during the three weeks before the election, on about a three-quarter-of-a-mile-long straight street, with houses on to the pavement. I think one of those houses did not have a Labor poster; and we knew what it was like when we were fetching people out on Election Day itself. So that most of us expected surprises. We didn't, I think, expect a complete overturn of government, as it were. Incidentally, of course, Churchill in his write-up says that head office of the Conservative Party confidently expected they would be returned, but with a small majority; and he went to bed in the first place quite happy.
INT: Don't you think it really was kick in the teeth for poor old Churchill? Didn't you feel sorry for him, having led the country through wartime, and then being booted out of office? Why was the country so uncharitable, shall we say, towards him?
DB: I don't think it was a question of uncharitability for Churchill. Don't forget... memories could be fairly long. Churchill was remembered for earlier things: Tonypandy. And also, what people were voting for was not, I think, against Churchill, but against the mess of between the wars. We were not going to have again the awful unemployment, the horror of people on means tests, the suggestion that your son was at work and therefore he must keep the whole family. We were not having that anymore. That was the feeling I think most of us had.
INT: Tell me about the mood in the factory - what was the mood in the factory? Was it jubilant, quiet?
DB: Oh, by the end of the day, wild excitement. In fact, my AU's secretary went trotting along upstairs and opened the manager's office and said to him, "Shall I sing you the Red Flag, sir?" He was a small man, not given to much excitement or any wild comments, so really and truthfully that was amazing, coming from him - something I've never forgotten.
INT: Though after that in many ways surprising election result, various things started to happen. For example in 1946, in February 1946, Churchill makes what's now being referred to as the 'Iron Curtain speech'. Do you remember that period of time, and do you remember anything you thought about it?
DB: I remember it... not as clearly as I remember some of the things happening at home, the move to nationalize various things. But I remember too that some of us were inclined to dismiss that as just Churchill showing off. I think we underestimated the way that it showed what was going to happen in the future. I think at that time some of us thought, well, he wasn't so important anymore; he was just talking off the top of his head. And as events turned out, of course, whether it was off the top of his head or not, it set a sort of pattern for the future.
INT: Were there any expressed thoughts about possible relationships with the Soviet Union immediately post-war? I mean, how was the Soviet Union, for example, viewed in 1945 and 1946 by the majority of working people in this country, as you knew them?
MAN IN B/G: What did they think of the Soviet Union?
DB: I think a lot of people did realize what the Soviet Union had been through during the war. Remember they were beginning to leak out information as to what had happened in the death camps, and there was still quite a lot of sympathy. And for some time, the powers on top, as it were, were not going to rush into speech or writing against the Soviet Union. The official Labor Party attitude had always been wary, and I think it began to show itself. I think there was less attempt to work with the Soviet Union than there was to hang on to the American connection.
INT: What did you think about Ernie Bevin at the time?
DB: What did I think about the American position?
DB: No, Ernie Bevin.
DB: Well, I was...
INT: '45, '46, forty...
DB: I was sorry he was ever put in the position he was: I thought he was the wrong person to be in that position. But that was merely my opinion, it wasn't necessarily everybody else's.
INT: Well, it was your opinion I was asking at that time. But let's now get move away from the big things, let's get more personal. 1946, 1947 - very tough economic times as far as Britain is concerned; and then you get the winter. Can you tell me something about the whole experience of rationing at that time? The war has now been over for a year, and yet you've got this hardship going. Can you tell me something about that?
DB: Well, of course, one of the odd things, as it seemed to us at the time - yet we accepted the necessity - was that bread was rationed after the war was over; and considering it hadn't needed to be rationed during the lifetime of the war, it seemed a sort of backward movement. But I think there was still...
(Interruption - Cut)
DB: You want me to go back?
INT: I would like to again. 1946 - what's the experience like, rationing-wise and things like that?
DB: Well, there was this question of bread rationing being brought in, which had not happened during the war. Of course, we had been threatened with potato rationing, but they managed to avoid that...
INT: I'd like to start again you'd be so kind. Just say... if you could start, "After the war was over, for the first time we had bread rationing" or something like that, so that I can come cleanly into you without my question. What happened after the war?
DB: Well, of course, after the war was over we had bread rationing for the first time. This hadn't happened during the war. And we were still on other rations. They didn't get appreciably larger in anything approaching a hurry. And when we got to the 1946-47 winter, the weather of course was very badly against the country. Certain parts... where I was living, for instance, because Headley was not as yet demobbed - I was a few miles out of Wolverhampton, in Shropshire, with a new baby, and... in the top floor of a farmhouse which was virtually marooned even from the road for a day or two. The man of the house went out to clear it on the Monday morning; left his shovel standing upright as he came in for breakfast, and when he went back it had drifted level almost to the top of his shovel. Down the lane was a cattle lorry covered in snow. So thatype of winter was pretty vicious, certainly for people living with limited heating. But I think, in spite of moaand groans, there was still some of the sort of euphoria that was left after the '45 election, because so many of us were convinced that a new page had been turned. The election had been won, the war was over. It was amazing how much one could do; one knew one could do it. There was still very much the hangover of that excitement. I think it probably carried us through the winter. I remember going shopping two miles to the village, taking the two dogs of the house with me, who carefully climbed on top of every heap of snow while I struggled round the edge. Our grocery was delivered by a pantechnicon normally. For three weeks he came and brought our bare rations in a sack on his back, and threw the groceries to us. We were lucky: they kept pigs; we had a pile of potatoes. And the fire downstairs in the farmhouse consisted, for about a week, of a real thick stump of yew, which you may know hardly will burn, on top of about four or five bits of coal, which one kept replenishing as fast as they burnt out. But... as I say, I think there was still that feeling that things could be done, things would happen.