Saturday, August 02, 2014

"Thinkin' 'bout my generation..."

 Hat-tip for illustration HERE
A thought from Tuesday/Wednesday's post about generations and cycles lingers on.

What about my own generation - specifically, my generation in Britain? We're categorised as The War Babies (1939-1945), but five years isn't really a generation. I suppose we're a sub-section of either the previous, or next full generation, Astrologically we're split: any born up to summer of 1941 belong with the previous full generation known as The Silent Generation or The Greatest Generation. They have Uranus in Taurus and Neptune in Virgo. The group born from summer of '41 to 1945 have Uranus in Gemini and those born later in that group have Neptune in Libra. They might properly be seen as part of the early Baby Boomers. The only common outer planet placement for The War Babies is Pluto in Leo, first decan, spanning from 00 degrees to 11 degrees.

Astrologically we are split, but life-experience for this group was similar, and life experiences are something that defines a generation as much, or even more than astrology.

There's plenty of information about the war years in Britain on line, some of it focuses on the children of that time, but there's precious little about War Babies as a specific "generation", and how their life experiences formed them. The bulk of what's available on the 'net in that vein is about life as it was lived in the USA. I guess, comparing the size and population numbers of both nations, that's not surprising.

I found a 2010 piece on the War Baby USA experience titled:
The Peculiar Generation. It's by Richard Pells, and is a very good read. It begins:

We've all heard about the "greatest generation," which lived through the Depression of the 1930s and won World War II (with a little help from our Russian friends). We've also been subjected to innumerable analyses about the "baby boomers," born in the late 1940s and 1950s, who instigated the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and have shaped American society ever since.

But what about the people born between the beginning of World War II, in 1939, and its end, in 1945? Those members of a transitionally awkward generation who were too young to have personally experienced the Depression or the war, but too old to have been embroiled in the turmoil on college campuses in the late 1960s. Who were presumably too blasé or sedate to have participated in the battles against the Vietnam War or for the equality of women, much less in the revels at Woodstock. Who came of age in an America that was obsessed with the cold war and was not yet bombarded daily by technological innovations, new waves of immigrants, or cataclysms in the stock market. What contributions, if any, has this generation made to American political and cultural life?

Quite a lot, as it happens. In fact, many in this cohort were responsible for some of the principal transformations—especially in movies, music, and journalism—that have occurred in America over the past 60 years.
(Do go read the rest, it's interesting.)

How did the War Babies' lot in Britain compare? I can tell the story only from my own experience, which would differ, in detail, quite a bit from a child living in a different part of the country.

We set out by experiencing war as baby civilians, first-hand (chubby little hands). We experienced the sound of air raid sirens (sirens still make me cringe), being hurried into our family's air raid shelter as bombs fell nearby - we were mostly oblivious to the danger. I remember my parent's telling me, on one such occasion "It's only Roger, next door, playing with his rocket gun".
 WW2 gas mask
Adults and children were issued with gas masks to wear in case of a gas attack, tiny ones for the kids. Thankfully such an event didn't arise. At night our windows had to be "blacked-out" with specially blackened cardboard or black-out curtains, so that the lights from our windows could not be seen by enemy planes above. Food rationing was stringent, real eggs became a rare treat, fruit, other than home-grown varieties, was non-existent. I first tasted oranges and bananas sometime after the war ended. "Sweet coupons" strictly limited our candy-intake - and that was no bad thing! Toys and books were usually hand-me-downs from siblings or other relatives and neighbours, or hand-made items.

Many of us, especially during the last two years of the war, when we could toddle around a bit, were evacuated from war-torn cities either to live with relatives, or to private homes where families had opened their doors, and their arms, to shelter young evacuees. I was lucky to be able to be evacuated from Hull, a city port on the East coast, to live with my maternal grandparents in the countryside for a couple of years.

After the war ended, we returned home, looked on as our cities began to be re-built. The sight of ruined department stores, gaping lots in city centres, streets of blackened or flattened houses didn't seem strange to us, or even particularly scary - it was just the way things were.

Our early school days, during the 1940s often found us in makeshift classrooms - "pre-fabs". The same "pre-fabs" (pre-fabricated buildings) were a common sight for temporary housing in blitzed areas. At age 11 we all took an exam then known as The Eleven-Plus. Passing or failing this exam determined whether we'd go on to a grammar/high school or to a less academically inclined secondary school. I passed, amazingly enough, and was among the small "elite" (tongue firmly in cheek) who had to travel by train each day to a high school in a town some 14 miles away. This particular school, before the war, had been a snooty private boarding school. I'm not sure which Act of Parliament brought the snooty establishment down a peg or two to the level of the likes of me, Miss Bun the Baker's Daughter, but that's what had happened.

Britain's government swung from Conservative before the war to Labour, with Prime Minister Clement Atlee. The National Health Service and other social programmes began then. Nationalisation of public transport, utilities, education and social programmes...massive changes from the way things had been before the war. The class system stayed firmly in place of course, but ordinary working-class people began to find their voices and their place in the new scheme of things. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was born in 1957. The Peace Sign, designed by Gerald Holtom, followed in 1958 and has become universally recognised. It's made up of flag semaphore symbols for letters "N" and "D" (Nuclear Disarmament).

Into the 1960s: hippies were something we might have read about in a magazine or heard about on the radio. We didn't "do" hippies, at least not to my knowledge. We "did" funky fashion if one lived in London. Carnaby Street, Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon et al, were at the apex of '60s "cool" sensibilities. In our town, in the late 1950s, we'd had a single funky character who dressed differently from the norm - a "Teddy Boy", he was, and notorious, though hardly "cool".

We had no civil rights protests and adventures comparable to those happening in the USA - there wasn't the same need. There was conscription known as National Service (draft) for male youths at age 18, until 1960. They were required to serve in army, air-force or navy for a minimum of two years. Older generations decided this was, in general, a good thing: "It'll teach 'em a bit of discipline!"

We heard lots of American music, via radio, juke boxes, and in those ubiquitous coffee bars where some musicians and singers, performing live, were kick-started onto their road to fame, and in some cases became part of the USA's "British Invasion" - of pop.

Once out in the big wide world, with whatever qualifications we'd gathered, finding work wasn't too difficult for most of us in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Few of us owned vehicles, other than bicycles, scooters or motor bikes - we were a far cry from what we knew of our teen and twenty American equivalents. We encountered them occasionally in movies, driving their own cars, wearing wonderful clothes and hair-dos.

During the 1970s and 80s things began to unravel. The "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, bombings on the UK mainland by the IRA (Irish Republican Army), Conservatives back in power, the Falklands War, miners' strikes, other strikes...etc. etc. A pattern roughly following that in the USA I guess, just different names and events.

I never did keep in touch with my War Baby school friends and acquaintances, so when I received an invitation, via my cousin, to an horrendous (40 year or 50 year?) reunion at my old high school, I gracefully declined to attend, but with a mental "you have to be kidding!" I high-tailed it in the opposite direction. I've no idea whether any of my immediate cohort became famous or even noteworthy, somehow I rather doubt it. I suspect most of us have lived lives of anonymity and, I hope, of relative peace after our very rude awakening during World War 2.


So...what contribution did my small, oft forgotten War Baby generation as a whole make to British (and other) cultural life? Lots! Early childhood experiences were pushed to the back of minds. A fervent desire for peace, echoes of those old memories perhaps, is evident in some song lyrics, especially in those of War Baby John Lennon.

I've kept the time span tight: 1939-1945.

British War Baby Roll-call (in no particular order):

The Monty Pythons: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman.


The Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr.

Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger, Brian Jones.
Also Cliff Richard, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Roger Daltrey, Davy Jones, Pete Townshend, Roger Waters, Jimmy Page, Ian Dury, Cilla Black, Jaqueline Du Pré, Peter Cook.

Acting: Sir Ian McKellen, Michael Crawford, John Hurt, Sir Ben Kingsley, Dame Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart.
Many more who, though well-known at home, not so much outside the UK.

And then, non-famously, there's me...and you, passing reader, if you qualify!

The Brit War Baby (famous) list is around 90% male. Well, that's how things were back then. Women such as Dame Judi Dench or Dame Diana Rigg might have been included to assist balance, but they missed the exact War Baby time span by a year or so, one way or the other.

There were, I should mention, a few War Baby characters to be less than enthusiastic about:
Richard Dawkins; John Major (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997.) And three very nasty characters: a mass murderer, a serial killer and a big-time criminal: Myra Hindley, Fred West, Jimmy Moody.

I doubt there's an all-encompassing nutshell description - a keyword - for the War Babies. "Resilient", perhaps? I'd like to believe that we, those of us still on planet Earth, in Britain, in Europe and to a lesser extent in the USA, are some who can best understand what war really means to young civilians, and having such an understanding will have done what we could, whenever we could, to spread the word.

Thinking back to Tuesday/Wednesday's post and Strauss and Howe's 4-type generation cycle, War Babies would be part of what they term either the "Adaptive" or "Idealist" quadrants, depending on which part of the 1939-1945 span they were born. Their book is about the USA specifically. I'm not sure I agree with this split for British War Babies. Maybe, one day some British author will write a book comparable to Strauss and Howe's "Generations", but will also include references to astrological cycles. Maybe someone already has done so, and if a passing reader knows of such a book, please do let me know in comments.

Song from the post's title. This video includes some good and relevant film clips:


9 comments:

anyjazz said...

A good read. All those iconic people born in that era. It is something to think about.

Hm. I wonder what generation I am in; PRE-war babies, maybe?

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ You are at the tail-end of the Silent Generation. Hmm. ;-)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Generation

mike said...

I think it's a bit unfair to simply classify the 1939 - 1945 group as The War Babies, albeit factual by an historical perspective-marker...best to say it's a subgroup, as you infer.

America's Civil War started when S.Carolina seceded December, 1860, with Pluto at 8* Taurus, Saturn 19* Virgo, Uranus 9* Gemini (Saturn square Uranus). I'm not sure what to call the generations between the Civil War and WWI...LOL...maybe farmers.

WWI was 1914 - 1918, with Pluto's ingress into Cancer and conjunct Saturn. "Penned in the wake of America's entry into World War One, How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm? (After They've Seen Paree) was written by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis with music by Walter Donaldson, and was published in 1918." (http://www.firstworldwar.com/audio/howyagonna.htm). Rural USA became urban USA after WWI.

WWII had Pluto's ingress into Leo and square Saturn. The boomer generation was formed concurrent to the suburbanization of the USA post WWII.

The USA's involvement in the Vietnam War tends to coincide with Pluto's entrance into Virgo, square Saturn, and the generational term of Generation X of the early 1960s, but also includes Pluto's stay in Libra until about 1983. Pluto entered Libra in 1970, squared Saturn 1973 - 1974, which almost coincides with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 (a long war!). Maybe Generation X should be X1 (Virgo) and X2 (Libra).

Strauss and Howe gave the generational name "Millenials" the baby-boomers' echo, or Generation Y, roughly 1980 to 2000. Pluto was conjunct Saturn in late 1982 and entered in Scorpio from 1983 through 1995 tends to delineate the Millenials.

I'm not sure what we're calling the generation after the Millenials, but the 9-11-2001 terrorism occurred with Pluto at 12* Sag opposed to Saturn at 14* Gemini, which is the start of the USA Afghanistan War...peculiarly, Pluto and Saturn were still in opposition at about 20* Gemini two years later in 2003, when the Iraq War started.

So, it seems to me that Saturn (ruler of time) and Pluto (procreation-regeneration) have something to do with our generational designations...Pluto probably more with defining each generational type, and Saturn, or Saturn's aspects to Pluto, with each of the generation's tendency toward an historic marker or conflict.

Pluto had a much longer stay (about 30 years) in Cancer than the signs after Cancer, so generational traits may be similar for a longer duration when compared to the Millenials with Pluto's stay of about 12 years. In other words, our generational changes are occurring faster with Pluto's faster pace through the signs.

mike (again) said...

Pluto was in Taurus 1854 - 1884 and in Gemini 1884 - 1914. Each of these two eras had their identifying generational definitions, with each duration lasting about thirty years, similar to Cancer. Things were slow to change!

Twilight said...

mike ~ Astrologically, I agree that Pluto is a good, broad-brush marker for generational changes. We have to allow for other ingredients too though, as we are supposed to do in interpreting natal charts : differences in background, ethnicity, experience etc. Hence lots of sub-sections will exist.

USA experiences are different from just about any other country we can name, so any common historical experience will be broad at best.
Without a lot of reading and research on every single country it's not possible to compare, or even to discover whether the Pluto in Leo yardstick works every time.

The world doesn't revolve around the USA or the UK, or Europe. Until someone writes a book or books on the topic, we can only surmise, and work with what we've found out so far.

(I wrote this post really as a counterpoint to "The Peculiar Generation" piece I linked.)

Even regarding the Pluto generational marker, those born on the cusp are going to be fairly similar. Anyjazz is at the end of Pluto in Cancer, I'm at the beginning of Pluto in Leo - our outlooks and sensibilities are similar, though our experiences are very different. I think the cuspy changeover periods are going to be quite wide, possibly in proportion to the particular length of the Pluto transit.

It's a great big cauldron of stew - our lifetimes - cooking together several generational groups. Difficult to pick out individual flavours with precision.

ex-Chomp said...

Yes true, many High Conic people in that generation but myths ended up and down and will rise again to end up in other ways...

I guess what, though a thought passed and was not passed off, that our moment in history is that of a mixture, a complete mixed up and down moment in the course of mankind.

To an unprecedented sort of fall, a soft fall, without myths or explanations or High Conics.

Icons in fact do exist to picture out and figure out shapes of things but now it seems the movement itself of generations was passed off.






Twilight said...

ex-Chomp ~ Yes, agreed - all peoples, throughout the ages, have lived "up and down" existences in company with a grand mixture of others - human as well as the rest of earth's creatures.

I like your "Hi Conics"...lol!

You mention of "shapes of things" and it reminded me of a song by the Yardbirds - and the words are appropriate to this topic too:

Shapes of things before my eyes,
Just teach me to despise.
Will time make men more wise?
Here within my lonely frame,
My eyes just hurt my brain.
But will it seem the same?

Come tomorrow, will I be older?
Come tomorrow, may be a soldier.
Come tomorrow, may I be bolder than today?

Now the trees are almost green.
But will they still be seen?
When time and tide have been.
Fall into your passing hands.
Please don't destroy these lands.
Don't make them desert sands.

Soon I hope that I will find,
Thoughts deep within my mind.
That won't disgrace my kind.



R J Adams said...

I guess I just missed being a "War Baby", born in May 1946. My sister was, though. She was born in '41. We always said she was the last thing my father did before he went to war, after he'd put his boots on, and I was the first thing he did on his return, before he took them off!

I missed conscription by four years (thank the gods!), but not the 11-plus. Like you, I scraped through and ended up in something called a 'Grammar School' (founded in 1636 for the 'sons of gentlefolk'. It had gone 'downhill' by the time I got there!)

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Probably one of my greatest recollections, as a teenager working in Liverpool, was attending the Cavern Club each lunchtime. The Beatles played there three days a week, with Gerry and the Pacemakers filling the other two days. The following week they'd swap days. I had the dubious pleasure of once trying to chat up Cilla Black ( or 'White', as she was then) who worked as a coat-check girl at the club. Needless to say, I got nowhere.

Twilight said...

RJ ~ Ah! Your're nobbut a lad still! :-)

Oooh! Fancy that! Chatting up Cilla!
You might have had a lucky escape there, and would've missed your chance to live in this lovely Land of the ,,,,erm. Scrub that.