England Expects: so jump Scotland – give us your girls

In 1939 and through the 1940s Scots found they were fighting in England’s war against Nazism.

November 1939 and the Stirling Observer reported that two months into the second world war eyebrows were being raised in Scotland regarding the lack of mention of Scotland in press coverage of the war. 

Munition workersBritish newspapers were consistently failing to mention Scotland in their reporting of the war. It was England at war with Germany, the English army, English navy, English air force. For all the scoffers among you who say, ‘So what does it matter? consider for a moment if there had been wall-to-wall press coverage of Scotland at war with Germany, our men in the Scottish army … our brave Scottish navy… plucky Scottish airmen in the royal air force – ne’er any recognition of the contribution made by English men and women – the outcry would be loud and indignant and rightly so.

Crude English nationalist bigotry was described as –  ‘a slap in the face for the Welsh, Irish and Scots removed from their families for years to defend “the nation”’ and blanked entirely from any acknowledgement of their sacrifice.

 

The BBC came under criticism for its pro-English bias. Films, too were being churned out featuring heroic pipe-smoking English types with dogs called n****r who were assisted in their mission to save Britain or England by blokes called Taffy, Paddy and Jock. More on the BBC later but let us linger a little longer on conversations in the press and parliament over the flagrant promotion of England that was proving such an irritant to Scots such as complaints that the British navy in which so many Scots (Welsh and Northern Irish) served flew the flag of St George of England as Britain’s naval ensign.

Highland regiments were angered that the kilt was banned – outright until following submissions it allowed their use for ceremonial occasions. In light of this partial climb-down one of the Scottish newspapers expressed its gratitude in the most cringe-worthy fashion by stating they felt ‘Scotland is coming into its own and receiving that consideration we have long yearned for.’

Aye, right.

‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler
If You Think We’re On The Run?
We Are The Boys Who Will Stop Your Little Game
We Are The Boys Who Will Make You Think Again
‘Cause Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler
If You Think Old England’s Done?

And twenty-five years later the Beatles were still at it –

I saw a film today, oh boy;
The English army had just won the war

Persistence delivered some change and it was later reported that the ‘national press’ were beginning to use the word Britain when they meant Britain. Of course newspapers in the days, weeks, months and years following were filled with notices and pictures of young Scots men killed and missing which must have added to the distress of Scottish (Northern Irish, Welsh) bereaved families all around the British Isles when confronted by the aggressive and insensitive nationalism of the English press.

Women, too, played a vital role during the war and this also proved an area of resentment as it was obvious that women – the word girls was invariably used to describe them and I will replicate that here despite it being annoying – would be sent to England to factories and farms leaving Scotland short of workers and their families struggling when both their young men and women were sent away with no-one left to look after older relatives or carry on businesses.

‘Fewer Scots Girls Sent to England’

In July 1943 complaints of large numbers of Scottish girls being drafted into England for war work was raised in the House of Commons with a proposition that instead of sending Scots into England war production industries should be shared out with Scotland.

‘Mobile’ – those without immediate ties – women were ordered to move away from their homes and families from right across Scotland and references to Glasgow are indicative of issues raised not that it was only Glasgow’s women who were involved in this trade.

Why should an industrial city, such as Glasgow, have its women workforce forcibly removed to England when there were workers required at home? it was asked. And were English women being sent into Scotland or was this a one-way trade?

The government response seemed to be irritation that anyone should question why England wouldn’t use Scots to fill vacancies in England. It became clear that was how Scotland was seen from London  – as a resource for men (military) and manufacturing and agriculture (women and men.) The impact of removing Scotland’s remaining workforce with so many Scots men serving overseas in order to protect Scotland’s own industries doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone in government. It was almost as though Scotland was a colony there to service England, like any of the commonwealth nations.

Drafting of labour from Scotland to England included skilled Scots men as well as women trained-up in various occupations and there was special outrage that they were being forced away from their own jobs to fill-in in England. Examples were provided of women aged over thirty who were trained by Scottish employers to replace men in the forces who were being forced out of the factories that trained them and dispatched to England leaving no-one to fill their places in Scotland. The charge was that Scotland’s immense manufacturing strength was being sapped to satisfy the demands of English business. It was claimed –  

‘The enforced migration is serious strategically, industrially, socially, morally and racially.’

And – 

‘Scotland is not getting her proportionate share of the munition work of the war. And Scotland’s industrial capacity is being neglected so Scotland will be gravely handicapped with the return of the peace.’ 

With thousands of women compulsorily transferred by the Ministry of Labour in Scotland into England for war work questions were asked of the Minister of Labour, the Labour Party’s Ernest Bevin. He explained that it was through ‘necessity’ and if there was undue hardship (caused by the policy of forced removals of workers) he would look into it – but it was important to ‘fill certain factories’.

ILP MP Campbell Stephen’s comment that there was ‘great discontent in Scotland about girls being sent to England when there was work in their own country’ was dismissed by English Liberal Conservative MP for Holland with Boston, Sir Herbert Butcher, when he joked, ‘Is it unusual for Scots to come to England?’ to laughter in the Commons.

Meanwhile in Glasgow a Scottish spokeswoman for the Ministry of Labour, a Miss Berry, insisted –

‘The factories, thousands of them, are south of the border, and the labour is here. Scottish girls must just be good soldiers and go. Girls must be educated to understand that it is their duty to go’

In July 1943 she insisted there were no vacancies in all of Scotland for skilled mobile women of conscript age. Coming to her defence for such a misleading statement on the state of industry in Scotland Ernest Bevin, replied that what she meant to say was

‘there were no vacancies in Scotland to which this worker could be sent. I know of no reason for supposing that this statement was not correct.’

The issue over Miss Berry playing fast and loose with the actuality stemmed from a question about a woman who had requested to remain in Scotland because of family commitments and whose three brothers were already away in the forces. The Glasgow labour exchange blankly refused to consider permitting her to stay, insisting she was ‘mobile’ and her duty was to go down to England to work.

Bevin squirmed under further questioning over why individuals could not be accommodated but were told by his department in Scotland that Scots must make themselves available for work in England. Resentment over the wider issue of stripping Scotland’s skilled labour force to bolster England’s was also much debated in Scotland.

Bevin was asked

1. the number of women under 40 years of age who had been directed to work in England each month of that year (1943.)
2. The number of women in England who received directions to proceed to Scotland during each month of that year.
3. The number of women from England working in Scottish factories; how many were mobile; and whether they will be directed to work in English factories before Scottish girls are sent away from their homes to such work (in England.)

Bevin replied – women sent from Glasgow to England from start of 1943 to 12 June was 169. In that time 23 specially trained women in aero-engines were transferred to Scotland from England. Information was not available on the total number of women from England working in Scottish factories.

Bevin in an awkward spot blustered – ‘I must again emphasise that this is a total war, affecting Scotland and England as well. We cannot deal with it on a nationalist basis.’

Quite Mr Bevin – colonialism is not dead in the minds of this Welsh Labour MP.

Pressed by Campbell Stephen, Scottish socialist MP ILP. On why Scottish ‘girls’ were not allowed to work in Scotland when they had qualifications for work here. Bevin insisted workers with special skills had to be put where required.

He was pressed still further – that Scottish women were trained and sent away to England while other women were brought in and trained and asked whether ‘this total war does not affect Scottish girls more than English girls?’

Bevin insisted English girls had been moved all over the country (England) and he had not treated Scottish girls differently from English or Welsh’ – and he wasn’t going to treat Scottish girls differently.

It was clear the government was AT IT.

Earlier that year Boothby –who represented Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern asked Bevin about a serious lack of labour on Scotland’s farms at the same time Scots women (girls) were forced to England to take work.

Bevin prevaricated but eventually more figures were provided for general movements of labour.

Bevin told the Commons that 3,385 Scots women were transferred to England in the ten months up to May 1943 – the only figures available as the Department of Labour only began to keep records from May 1942 (following complaints from Scotland) and 57 women transferred to England to Scotland (they had specialised skills and were not generally categorised as  ‘mobile’ women labour.)

When challenged on the huge disparity between forced transfers in both countries Bevin agreed the only women sent out of England to Scotland had special skills, ‘Otherwise, we have sent no people from England to Scotland, although we get a constant influx of Scotsmen into England.’ – note his switch from women to men.

Resentment in Scotland over the ignorance of BBC employees boiled over in the summer of 1940 when the BBC was dubbed ‘the English Broadcasting Corporation’ for having little input from Scotland and its continuing England-focus was having a detrimental impact on morale within Scotland. While BBC programmes appealed ‘to the patriotism of Scotland’ they provided little representation north of the border and constantly used the term ‘English’ in place of British.  The usual bluster and mumbled defence from the BBC was that Scots and their queer language and dialects were unintelligible to most listeners and the BBC had no intention of altering its approach to broadcasting.

The BBC has at least been consistent across time reacting to criticism with a shrug of its collective shoulders then it carries on as usual. During the war the BBC’s Scottish regional director, Melville Dinwiddie, issued instructions to announcers that the word Britain was to be used wherever possible (if only old Melville was still around today we might have lost the smug Home Counties BBC – but no.) 


He explained that announcers use the word England subconsciously, and without any intention of giving offence to Scotland. No change there – with a few exceptions where it is meant to cause offence. But that is surely the point that in England Britain is England. It’s offensive and disrespectful. Scotland’s press, some of them, were grateful to Dinwiddie and hoped that others would adopt this more accurate form of reporting. Fat chance.

It is clear that the war-time government in London was oblivious to the discriminatory impact of its policies across the UK. It didn’t help that Winston Churchill sometimes referred to England when the subject was Britain. Scotland was before World War 2, during World War 2 and since World War 2 a useful resource of men – and women – ripe for exploitation – Scotland the nation with no name – Scotland the invisible. Just look at the representation of Scotland’s politicians on BBC news and current affairs programmes – provide your own magnifying glass. Eighty years on what has changed? Answers on a postcard.

 

13 Responses to “England Expects: so jump Scotland – give us your girls”

  1. Thank you for the informative survey. I cringed towards the end, where the “explanation” given was that the word “England” was used “subconsciously”, when Britain was meant. That’s just the point: words matter and the mechanism of getting used to and tolerating misnomers makes a sturdy platform for racist thinking.

  2. Thank you for all your writing.

  3. Very informative article. Times have certainly not changed!

  4. Interesting article, thank you. (If you are refering to Bevin as a Welsh MP, I think he was born in Somerset, and spent periods as MP for 2 English seats)

  5. And there we have it.
    Nothing new from Westminster or their propaganda machine.
    Same old posh spoken disrespect and subjugation of the Scots.
    Thank you for this easily digestible info.

  6. You say “disrespectful” but it might be said that respect given is respect due insofar as with a “junior” member of a union treatment is on a par with how a servant might be treated. You would not expect the householder to include the servant’s name when giving her address. Yes, the servant is there and essential, and can have a night off but only once the mistress is finished with her. And, if the servant has proved to be loyal and hard working might even be given a glowing reference

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    An incredibly informative – yet also disturbing – piece of writing on an issue I had never heard of before.
    Plus ca change…

    Hope you don’t mind – I have shared this far and wide.

  8. I really enjoyed this article. Thank you very much.

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