Thought Leadership

OFF-TOPIC: The history of today

By Colin Walls

When I was at school [a long, long time ago!], I really could not see the use, or more specifically the relevance, of learning history. Some of it was quite interesting. For example, I thought that the Romans were cool and their mark can be seen all over Europe to this day. The problem was that we were taught about various historical periods, but the most recent was late 19th Century. So I grew up with no formal knowledge of 20th Century history. I think that this was partly because, when I was born the second world war had only been finished 12 years before. My teachers would not consider that history at all!

Of course, the world we live in today is largely shaped by the events of the second half of the 20th Century and, even though I lived through a lot of that period, I never really understood the immediate post-war period or stuff going on when I was a child. Of course, I have seen TV programs and movies, but what I have learned from those is largely superficial and often just plain fictional.

I am an avid [though rather slow!] reader and that is the way I learn many things. I always have at least one book on the go. I maintain a reading list, so, when I finish one book, I have no hesitation moving on to the next. I endeavor to alternate between non-fiction and contemporary fiction – the latter is a bit of a rest sometimes. Non-fiction might be biography, science or any number of topics, but, quite commonly it is history. This is helping to fill the gaps in my knowledge and understand the world around me a little better.

At this moment, I am reading A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr. It is a big book – about 650 pages. As I am a slow reader, it will take me a while. However, so far [I am just over 100 pages in], it is very straightforward to read and I am really enjoying it and looking forward to the remaining 500+ pages. The book really covers 1945 until early 21st Century. At this point the immediate post-war period is coming under scrutiny. Every few pages I learn some new detail or have some new insight. I will share just a few:

  • In May 1940 there was a serious discussion in the UK government about surrendering. Churchill only just got enough votes to permit him to continue the fight. It seems that the world could have been very different!
  • I have a new favorite Churchill quote. He said many memorable things, but I enjoyed his response to being told that Stafford Cripps had come to visit: “Tell Sir Stafford I am in the lavatory and can only deal with one sh** at a time.”
  • I was aware that rationing of food etc. continued long after the war into the early 1950s and that this was not because of transportation problems, but a lack of convertible currency to purchase products from abroad. However, I was surprised to learn that bread rationing only started in 1947 – 2 years after the war had ended.
  • A lot of houses were destroyed in the war, but I was unaware of the scale. Coventry, for example, lost one third of its houses in a single night. The ship-building town of Clydebank was badly hit; after two nights of air raids, only seven houses out of 12,000 were undamaged.
  • I was unaware of the significant involvement of British troops [and many other nationalities] in the Korean war.
  • The Korean war came close to being nuclear, which, in turn, would probably have made it a global conflict.

I have many weeks of entertainment/learning ahead of me …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at