Classic Podium: A humble recognition of heroes

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The Independent Culture
From an election speech

by the Prime Minister,

David Lloyd George,

in the aftermath of

the Great War. He went

on to win by a landslide

(24 November 1918)

THERE IS, as I never witnessed before, a new comradeship of classes, and I am glad, as an old political fighter (who has been hard hit and has been able to return the blows, always in a spirit of meekness) that we are approaching the new problems in a spirit of comradeship. Let us keep it as long as we can.

I have no doubt human nature will prevail yet, but for the moment let us finish the task together, and when we have finished it, then let us play political football. You can afford to do it then. But the work is not over yet - the work of the nation, the work of the people, the work of those who have sacrificed. Let us work together first.

What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in. I am not using the word "heroes" in any spirit of boastfulness, but in the spirit of humble recognition of the fact. I cannot think what these men have gone through. I have been there at the door of the furnace and witnessed it, but that is not being in it, and I saw them march into the furnace. There are millions of men who will come back. Let us make this a land fit for such men to live in.

There is no time to lose. I want us to take advantage of this new spirit. Don't let us waste this victory merely in ringing joy-bells. Let us make victory the motive power to link the old land up in such measure that it will be nearer the sunshine than ever before, and that at any rate it will lift those who have been living in the dark places to a plateau where they will get the rays of the sun.

We cannot undertake that without a new parliament. Those of you who have been at the front have seen the star shells, how they light up the darkness and illuminate all the obscure places. The Great War has been like a gigantic star shell, flashing all over the land, illuminating the country and showing up the dark, deep places. We have seen places that we have never noticed before, and we mean to put these things right.

What is the first thing the Great War has shown us? The appalling waste of human material in the country. There is hardly any material placed by Providence in this country which is so much wasted as human life and human strength and human intellect - the most precious and irreplaceable material of all.

I have previously said something about the figures of the recruiting officers. Those who were in charge of recruiting came to the conclusion that if the people of this country had lived under proper conditions, were properly fed and housed, had lived under healthy conditions - had lived their lives in their full vigour - you could have had a million more men available and fit to put into the army.

It is not merely that. When life has not been lost, its vitality has been depressed. There are millions who are below par. You cannot keep even animals in their full vigour unless you give them good conditions. You cannot do it with men and women, and you cannot bring up children under bad conditions. There are millions of men's lives which have been lost as a result of the war, but there are millions more of maimed lives in the sense of undermined constitutions through atrocious social conditions in consequence of the terrors of this Great War. You must put that right. A vigorous community of strong, healthy men and women is more valuable even from the commercial and industrial point of view than a community which is below par in consequence of bad conditions.

Treat it, if you like, not as a human proposition, but as a business proposition. It is good business to see that the men, the women and the children of this country are brought up and sustained under conditions that will give strength to their frames, more penetration and endurance to their intelligence, and more spirit and heart than ever to face the problems of life which will always be problems that will require fighting, right from the cradle to the tomb. That is the first problem.

One of the ways of dealing with that is, of course, to deal with housing conditions. Slums are not fit homes for the men who have won this war, or for their children. They are not fit nurseries for the children who are to make an Imperial race, and there must be no patching up. This problem has got to be undertaken in a way never undertaken before, as a great national charge and duty. The housing of the people must be a national concern.