Last night an air raid warning about 1 a.m. It was a false alarm as regards London, but evidently there was a real raid somewhere. We got up and dressed, but did not go to the shelter. This is what everyone did, i.e. got up and then simply stood about talking, which seems very foolish. But it seems natural to get up when one hears a siren, and then in the absence of gunfire or other excitement one is ashamed to go to the shelter.

I saw in one of yesterday’s papers that gas masks are being issued in America, though people have to pay for them. Gas masks are probably useless to the civilian population in England and almost certainly in America. The issue of them is simply a symbol of national solidarity, the first step towards wearing a uniform. . . . As soon as war started the carrying or not carrying of a gas mask assumed social and political implications. In the first few days people like myself who refused to carry one were stared at and it was generally assumed that the non-carriers were “left”. Then the habit wore off, and the assumption was that a person who carried a gas mask was of the ultra-cautious type, the suburban rate-payer type. With the bad news the habit has revived and I should think 20 per cent now carry them. But you are still a little stared at if you carry one without being in uniform. Until the big raids have happened and it is grasped that the Germans don’t, in fact, use gas, the extent to which masks are carried will probably be a good index of the impression the war news is making on the public.

Went this afternoon to the recruiting office to put my name down for the Home Service Battalions. Have to go again on Friday to be medically examined, but as it is for men from 30 to 50 I suppose the standards are low. The man who took my name, etc., was the usual imbecile, an old soldier with medals of the last war, who could barely write. In writing capital letters he more than once actually wrote them upside down.

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18 Responses to 25.6.40

  1. Pingback: Airminded · Post-blogging 1940

  2. Emily says:

    Happy Birthday Eric!

  3. anonymouser says:

    “the suburban rate-payer type” :)) . Interesting to see how much our current concerns and behaviors resemble those of an earlier time.

  4. wordsmithsuk says:

    Interesting that the socialist Orwell should have so little understanding of why the poor old soldier can’t write. He probably left school at 14 having been educated only to do some form of manual work. He must also have served and suffered in the Great War. Imbecile? How times have changed.

  5. Not just any imbecile but “the usual imbecile.”

    “…..the Germans don’t, in fact, use gas…..”

  6. Fay Shirley says:

    Upside down letters – maybe he was dyslexic.

  7. Pingback: Tweets that mention 25.6.40 « THE ORWELL PRIZE -- Topsy.com

  8. IntelVet says:

    Upside down letters – likely brain damage, from shell shock and/or physical injury.

    Just some of the “hidden” war injuries many of us do not want to address. and, those injuries turn healthy people into imbeciles. It is a fact.

    I manned a hot line for those very problems for the two latest American “adventures”. I can relate to Orwell.

    Most war-mongers do so knowing they will never have to go.

  9. Pingback: Happy Birthday George « ten minutes hate

  10. Pingback: P.O.S.Z.U. » Duct Tape and Plastic Sheeting

  11. Since he relocated to London, I have noticed that Eric Blair has an uncanny flair for coming across as an elitist. Road to Wigan Pier takes on another aspect as I now envision him standing on the edge of a huge Petri dish, observing unicellular, prokaryote microorganisms.

    Oh, and his pet tadpoles! Metaphorical Heaven!

    “You don’t have to become frogs,” Orwell whispered into the tub of tadpoles. “Be Eric Blairs, instead.”

  12. In order to demonstrate that I am not so serious all of the time, this is not me playing the Contrabass Balalaika: http://twitpic.com/1zxmen

  13. Thirdstone Howel says:

    I really do miss the egg counts. Things seemed so much simpler in those days – before the war.

    Frankly I’m scared for George, and I really do worry how this all will turn out.

  14. Stephen says:

    What’s extraordinary about this post is Orwell’s interest in gas marks: not as a prevention against gas, since he says that threat is nonexistent, but as a signpost to the behaviour and underlying thinking of ordinary people. This is his real and permanant interest: how people understnd and respond to external political circumstances (be they in London during the blitz or in Airport One under Big brother).

  15. Barry Larking says:

    The old soldier is not “the usual imbecile” because he cannot write. Orwell was frustrated by having clear ideas and no outlet for his talents, while all around him he saw misdirected effort and incompetence. He is not being critical only; he is also partly angry with himself, his physical state. His having to push himself forward (“I suppose the standards are low”) was a humiliating situation for him. But he could be unkind, cruel and unfair. Later he reflected on why such incidents are so revealing and how damaged society is as a result. What is remarkable about ‘Blair becomes Orwell’ is not that he was a snob or even an average product of his class and sex at that time, but that he questioned it, over and again.

  16. Alex says:

    I’m not so sure ‘imbecile’ was a derogatory thing here; if you take it simply as a descriptive term, like we might say ‘mentally damaged’, then the final paragraph takes on a quite different tone.

  17. Phil Barker says:

    wordsmithsuk, Fay, IntelVet, thank you for showing how the comments on this blog can be as thought provoking as the posts.

  18. X: “I say, that Blair chap has his ‘types’ well categorized. What?”
    Y: “Ahem. Quite. And infinitely sub-categorized, no doubt.”

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