Seamen's Torch: the life story of Captain Edward Tuppe r. (National Book Association. Hutchinson, 2s. 6d.)
Reviewed by ALFRED GROSCH
4 L 4 ESS than a hand's count of year before the war, British children — thousands of then spent, a part of every day turning over the refuse, of garbage cans. 7'11E), were hunting for scraps of food –dirty but edible bits which were an essential part of their mothers' housekeeping. . . . The fathers of these children were not workless. They weren't 'unemployable misfits or surplus in a busy industrial world. They were very hard at work on rill lbc ,Y even Seas, manning the dE-(.1.-s Enid enginerooms of the British._ Merchant Service. . . . Hut the wages were not enough to prevent daily search through the discarded rubbish within reach of the dockland slums of Great Britain!'
With this terrific indictment Captain Edward Tupper opens his life's story under the title, " Seamoes Torch.," But these appalling conditions— as those of us who are old enough can well remember—did not apply to seamen's children alone. nor were slums peculiar to the dockland areas; indeed, there were plenty of slums equally as had in distrirts far removed from docklands.
I was a child in Kentish Town, Loudon, N.W. My parents were prosperous shopkeepers, but from the security of a comfortable Victorian home I could see
even with the eyes of a child that many hundreds of other children round about me lived lives of misery, hardship, and hunger from one year's end to another; and though I did not know it then I know now that it was because their fathers did not earn enough In wages to supply their minimum wants.
On almost any week night, between half-past nine and ten o'clock, up to the year 1914 one could, in Queen's Crescent, Kentish Town, a popular market place, see children scrambling among the garbage heaps searching for scraps of food, half-rotted fruit, potatoes, and other vegetables to take home to mother. By the time 1914 arrived I knew from personal observation that similar scenes were being enacted nightly in market places North, South, East, and West of London, and nearly all of them miles from dockland erects.
The streets of Kentish Town wherein the garbage searchers lived were known to me by repute, though as a and I was never permitted to go near them, and I might add that unless urgent business reasons took them there adults kept as far as possible from them also. They bore bad reputations, and sounded sinister. They were nobody's concern, nor, apparently, were the people who lived in them.
Yet in these streets lived the children who were to grow up into citizens of the greatest empire the world has ever known, and who were to be, later, found willing to go out and die to perpetuate these abominable conditions. Dl-fed,
clad, ill-shod—or not shed at all and housed in vermin-ridden hovels, they were the children of British working men employed by great industrial concerns at wages which were little better than stave wages; while, let it be added, those great concerns without exception were making huge profits yearly.
D UT let us go back to Captain Tupper U a moment: "With all its many faults, this Island is the finest place in
the world for any man . . he writes. Let me add, for any woman and child as well.
Seeing, however, that the two statements I have quoted from his hook ars
pear to he contradictory the reader might feel inclined to wonder what has happened between the " hand's count of years" before the war and the present to change the opinions of Captain Tupper and myself.
One might do worse than read Seamen's Torch. Indeed, I contend that one could not do better than read it, for in Captain Tupper's life story lies the key to the change. and Captain Tupper's story is the story of hundreds of thousands of men of his age and time— your fathers and grandfathers, who fought an amazing battle against greed, indifference, and oppression. To them workers owe every advantage of work, wages, and housing they enjoy to-day.
Nothing in the way of social amenities has come to the workers without fighting, often long and bitterly. but unceasingly until victory came When I was a child of one year old Cardinal Manning, with true Allston and love for the worker, was instructing men like Ben Tiliett and James Sexton how to set about their life's work; and in Captain Tupper's remarkable book can be found the sort of obstacles and the kind of enipitryrirs they had to fight and overcome. That this Island in our time is the iineet place in the world is not due to any softening of heart. of governments or employers of labour. it is due first and last to the great fight put up by the fathers and grandfathers of the present generation.
They fought that this generation might receive unemployment pay greater in sum and value than the wages they themselves received. They fought that children should never again be driven to search the garbage heaps of Queen's Crescent. or any other market place. They fought that horrible slums might be abolished, and that. fine dwellings might be erected on their sites. In ten or twelve years London and many other cities have been changed, and changed by working men who invaded Parliament, the L.C.C., County Councils, Borough Councils, and Councils all over the Kingdom solely that the conditions of life and living might be bettered for their fellow workers.
LET none imagine now that there are no new worlds to be conquered. The field is without limit. Humanity must march forward, hut it will not march by silting down and moaning over the defects of our civilisation. Youth must go out and remedy those defects, and if Youth prove half as good as the fathers and grandfathers then, in the words of the redoubtable Tupper: "'Our march to perfection, slow and halting as it is, will be sure."