It’s like 1939 all over again


I know there’s a lot of hysteria about at the moment, but I felt things had got a little silly when one person claimed that the current situation in this country was like 1939. I am afraid I pointed out, somewhat brusquely, that in 1939 they had a special census because it’s good to know how many young men you’ve got who are available to die for their country. Also they were frantically issuing gas masks and making plans to evacuate people. Somehow I seem to have missed these preparations.

But actually it started me remembering. I don’t remember 1939, but obviously my parents did. Indeed I must be one of the few people living who used a gas mask of wartime vintage.

Basically I’d be ten or eleven at the time and we had a few hens. Ours were technically free range, which is why we ended up not having them because back in the 1960s you just lost money on them because the price of eggs was so low. But between batches of laying hens you’d clean out the shed and fumigate it because hens, especially free range ones, picked up and spread all sorts of mites and similar.

And given my father had plenty to do anyway, and fumigation could wait for the weekend, I’d do it.
He mixed some stuff up in a stirrup pump bucket and I would set to and would spray the entire inside of the hut.


It was not pleasant stuff, so I went into the house and dug out my mother’s old gas mask. This is the one she took to school with her every day between 1939 and 1945. If you didn’t have it with you, you were sent home to get it. Wearing the mask I happily sprayed away and got the job done. Fascinating would you learn. I just the other day saw a warning notice saying that on no account should you wear or go anywhere near wartime gas masks because some of them used blue asbestos. There again, some of them didn’t.

The hut I was spraying had a bit of a history as well. There were two hen huts. Both about fifteen feet by thirty. I cannot remember when they first appeared, they’d always been there. I think my Grandfather had picked them up for £2 a piece or something. Anyway I remember them being moved, and perhaps ten years later I remember them being moved again, but this time they were converted into calf accommodation. Basically the bottom three feet was sawn off and replaced with four feet concrete block walls. They worked really well. Not only that, but every summer one of my jobs was painting them with creosote to preserve the timber. Every few years I’d put more felt on the roof and paint that with bitumen.

Anyway about thirty years ago it was obvious that the rooves were completely knackered. It was probably time we just demolished the buildings and replaced them. But you know what it’s like. Money’s short and actually they were still useful buildings. So I fastened timber battens to the rooves and then put a corrugated iron roof on top of the wooden one. This worked really well for another thirty years.

Alas, now, after more than sixty years hard service, they are ‘no longer fit for purpose.’ They need so much replacing it would effectively be a rebuild and when you’d done it, you’d end up with a calf building that seemed like a good idea fifty years ago.

So finally they’ve been cleared out of the way, taken down before they fell down. You could say that what’s left looks like a bomb site, but only if you were given to serious exaggeration.


In case you’re at a loose end and have nothing to read, did I mention that the following is newly available?

As a reviewer commented, “Another set of stories from Poet Tallis Steelyard. Amongst other short tales, he advises on selling your written word. The world, even the invented world of Tallis and friends, has much to say on this. As we know, people you’ve never heard of will offer you a book on how to sell your novel and get rich. Jim Webster has once again sorted the gold from the dross and presented it as stories. There’s a lot of truth in them!”

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27 thoughts on “It’s like 1939 all over again

  1. Stevie Turner August 5, 2019 at 2:26 pm Reply

    Wow, had no idea wartime gas masks could contain asbestos!

    • jwebster2 August 5, 2019 at 2:30 pm Reply

      Apparently a lot of them contain it (Perhaps most?) But in a lot it’s the white asbestos which is OK but in some it’s blue asbestos which isn’t
      But yes it came as a surprise to me as well

  2. Robert Matthew Goldstein August 6, 2019 at 3:07 am Reply

    I agree, it’s not like 1939 all over again.

    • jwebster2 August 6, 2019 at 5:35 am Reply

      Apparently it was George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. “

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 6, 2019 at 5:06 pm

        Yep. It’s not like 1939 but there are patterns and they are unmistakable.

      • jwebster2 August 6, 2019 at 5:20 pm

        I suspect it depends where you live. In some parts of the world 1939 was a time of great prosperity, in others the axis had already been fighting for several years

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 7, 2019 at 1:19 am

        Yes. But there are other differences. In general, we have a higher literacy rate, a longer life span, and more access to more information in a more civilized and united world in general. That doesn’t mean we won’t stoop to the murderous barbarism of Nazi Germany; it just makes the process of getting there different.

      • jwebster2 August 7, 2019 at 5:42 am

        I think one problem is that societies are getting more polarised internally and people are starting to regard political opponents as ‘the enemy’ and the idea that they might have some good ideas is unthinkable.
        So looking at the US from this side of the Atlantic, yes your gun laws are silly, but you have a serious mental health problem and a lot of young people who are being marginalised or who are marginalising themselves.
        In the UK, yes we have a problem with antisemitism but rather embarrassingly it’s more on the left of politics than the right

        Some of it may be social media which allows me to tell somebody with a far wider knowledge of mental health issues what is going wrong with American mental health. How the hell would I know? 🙂
        But it certainly pollutes the waters of discourse

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 7, 2019 at 9:42 pm

        One of our biggest problems in the states is our refusal to take mental illness seriously. In the 1960’s, somehow, mental illness became a ‘civil rights’ issue, somehow, the ‘right’ to refuse treatment replaced the right to get treatment. Along came Ronald Reagan who shut down the State Hospitals and cut funding for community mental health programs. Since then, people in the States decided that mental illness is an addiction to negative thinking, so mental health became Behavioral Health which a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous: a great program for helping people to manage substance abuse problems, but lousy for someone too psychotic to know how sick he is.

      • jwebster2 August 7, 2019 at 9:46 pm

        It sounds bad. We moved to ‘care in the community’ which closed a lot of big mental health institutions.
        Some of them had been warehousing sick people rather than treating them to be honest
        But the community care wasn’t there either so people fall through the gaps

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 7, 2019 at 10:09 pm

        Same here. The big lie about state hospitals is they were snake-pits which was only true in a small number of States with lax oversight. I had an aunt who lived in a State Hospital in the 1950’s. She shared a cottage on the grounds, she came, and went as she pleased. I will never understand why
        we think slowly starving people to death on our streets is more humane than a well regulated State Institution.

      • jwebster2 August 8, 2019 at 5:24 am

        Here I have a bit to do with the local foodbank, people with mental health issues are a big part of the regular clientele
        The problem is their lives are too disorganised to cope with the state benefit system

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 8, 2019 at 6:06 am

        Yes. It’s another part of the con of pretending mental illness doesn’t exist. “Why won’t they apply for benefits?…I guess they don’t want them.” Of all of the lies our culture tells itself the biggest is that we don’t know how to solve homelessness among the mentally ill. And this is another reason it’s not like 1939 all over again. The United States has been using lethal medical neglect on our citizens since 1982.

      • jwebster2 August 8, 2019 at 6:40 am

        Actually here in the UK, to be fair, the people who suffer worst from the system are the ordinary people who suddenly lose their job or end up ill and cannot work
        The safety nets exist for the mentally ill, it’s not a good system but it is a system, they’re unlikely to starve, but might kill themselves (or very rarely somebody else)

        The film ‘I Daniel Blake’ is one that shows the weaknesses of the system for those who’re just unlucky

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 8, 2019 at 7:07 am

        From what I can see, the quality of mental health care in the UK is fairly god. It sounds as if you need some kind of federally subsidized program or is the problem one of access? In the states we have a federal program for people who become disabled but people die waiting for approval.

      • jwebster2 August 8, 2019 at 7:41 am

        In the UK, mental health (and other health) is all, in US terms, federal, in that it comes under the NHS (National Health Service)
        But up until now mental health has been given low priority. To an extent it’s because other parts of the service have better PR and can grab more funding. After all, who isn’t going to support cancer care, or maternity,
        Mental health has struggled to get funding within the system

        Where local funding comes in is that care for the elderly etc is organised locally but to national rules and with some national funding. It’s a mess because national underfunds and then blames local
        I suspect the next few years will see this taken within the NHS. We have ‘bed blocking’ where the NHS have an elderly person in a ward with very expensive care, because there are no nursing homes for them to go to (where the care is appropriate and a lot cheaper) because the local authority home is full

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 8, 2019 at 6:23 pm

        Underfunded and unregulated is a recipe for suffering. It seems both our countries are going through hard times.

      • jwebster2 August 8, 2019 at 6:34 pm

        Actually we keep pouring money into the NHS but demand keeps growing faster than inflation.
        Basically as the population ages, we cost more to look after.
        For females, the leading cause of death was dementia and Alzheimer disease accounting for 15.6% of all female deaths, up from 15.2% in from 2015.

      • jwebster2 August 8, 2019 at 5:25 am

        (That is a greatly simplified view of the situation obviously 🙂 )

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein August 8, 2019 at 6:07 am

        Yes. Life is never easy for people with mental illnesses. The lack of supervision at some of the hospitals bred the kind of cruelty we’re now hearing about from the detention centers at our Southern Boarder. But the idea that what we’re doing now is somehow less barbaric is absurd.

      • jwebster2 August 8, 2019 at 6:41 am


  3. patriciaruthsusan August 14, 2019 at 9:45 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    First, a description of the use of some farm buildings and their cleaning and upkeep. Next, an amusing and instructive book on offer by Jim Webster. There’s a review by a pleased reader included.

    • jwebster2 August 14, 2019 at 10:09 am Reply

      strangely enough I’m not fond of hens 🙂

  4. patriciaruthsusan August 14, 2019 at 1:30 pm Reply

    My mother was raised on farms and said she hated cleaning the hen house. —- Suzanne

    • jwebster2 August 14, 2019 at 9:17 pm Reply

      you somehow have to bath and wash your hair and still don’t feel clean

      • patriciaruthsusan August 15, 2019 at 6:15 am

        The smell probably lingers as strong smells sometimes do. I think she said the lice were one of the things she disliked most. 😦 — Suzanne

      • jwebster2 August 15, 2019 at 9:06 am

        yes, the mites and lice were a nightmare,

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