Postwar recovery?

VE Day may have been the end of the war in Europe, but the recovery took many years.

Documents from the Society’s Town Archives show how the euphoria of VE Day was followed by an initial period of hopeful anticipation with the opportunity of moving things forward to a better future. Then followed by the realisation that things were not going to improve immediately, and in fact they were going to get tougher before they got better.

Looking back from 2020 to see how life now compares to then, we can see how things have indeed improved beyond recognition. Even if the same concerns about budgets, austerity and financial constraints still feature today but on a rather different playing field.

In 1945, shortly after VE Day, a Mr Murray Stewart of Elmhurst Road wrote to the Horncastle News suggesting that:

“now was an opportune time for Horncastle to take a really good look at itself…” with view to “..(i) obtaining new industry and (ii) improving the town’s traffic flow”.

Issues which still top the agenda today, seventy five years later!

In the 1945 election which saw Churchill booted out of office and a landslide swing to Labour, Horncastle remained firmly unmoved, returning as their new MP the Conservative Commander John Maitland. In his victory speech he warned of the dark days ahead:

“We have won the greatest war in history, heralding the introduction of a new era. But I must still warn you that the times ahead of us are still going to be most hard and difficult.

I think we shall find that our economic position will be worse and our personal comforts will be less than even in the worst period of the war. This is a time which calls for the greatest restraint and self-sacrifice.”

In 1946 the Chief Medical Officer for the Horncastle recorded how much of the local infrastructure was in a poor state, and other evidence began to show that a lack of maintenance and investment had allowed things to fall into to a general state of decay. But at the very same time the public purse was becoming tighter and it was difficult to address the problems.

For the young soldiers returning from years at war, many having seen the world returned to find Horncastle a “dead end”, especially those in their early twenties. One anonymous writer to the Horncastle News felt that:

“residents living here do not want the young people to enjoy themselves… I would say that there is nothing whatever for them to do except go pub crawling….There is nothing like enough going on here, either during the daytime in the way of work or at night with entertainment. There should be a dance on Saturday nights. That isn’t asking very much…”     

By 1947 there was the growing realisation that the recovery was not going to be easy. In a speech given at West Ashby by Commander Maitland (MP for Horncastle), he said how he:

“linked the position of Horncastle , which seemed run down in parts, to that of the British economy. ….the Swimming Baths were shut down as an economy…the River so full of old tyres, pots and pans….and the council just didn’t seem to be able to put their hand on sufficient funds to put things right… This is just what is happening to us nationally”

“We have been over spending as a nation, largely as a result of the war. Now we are in what amounts to national insolvency. The brutal fact is that we are now compelled to live on our national weekly pay packet and are compelled to realise that for some time we have been spending more than that packet contained.”

In the same edition of The Horncastle News there was still room for some to look on the brighter side, in the report on the retirement of Mr Charles Bogg “clerk for ages and ages to Mr Richard Chatterton” he spoke up for Horncastle, saying how much it had progressed in matters of detail since the beginning of the century:

“Quite a part of our business was done in the old days by horse and cart. Now just look at us, what with telephones and one thing and another.”

Find out more about postwar life in and around Horncastle by exploring the sections below.

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