"When I came across this photograph of Great Britain in the 1940's with the milk man continuing with his daily round, in spite of the carnage from the previous night's bombing that surrounded him, it brought home to me the true grit and character of folk then as opposed to now.
Everyone who was born between both World Wars was brought up with a work ethos that has since been unmatched. I was born in 1942 and when I started work at the age of 15 years, employees who changed their jobs were often frowned upon and generally seen as not being loyal and reliable. In the main, receiving a watch or an inscribed clock from one's firm upon retirement after 40 years service was not uncommon for most households in the land.
As a child growing up on Windybank Estate, while all children played hard, we were also brought up to work hard. I can recall that by the age of 15 years, apart from walking a mile daily to fetch the family shopping from the friendly grocer, Harry Hodgeson (who allowed us to tick our food and pay for it one week after we'd eaten it), I also had a firewood round, a paper round and I worked in Mr. Northrop's grocer shop on the estate every Saturday morning. Most of my earnings went into the household finances and my only surprise was that when I got my first proper job at a mill in Cleckheaton, my father didn't make me do a milk round as well, two hours before I clocked in at the mill! All of this was a common occurrence for the young then; and now that I look back upon it, I was expected to perform these tasks after having been in thre hospital for nine months, following a serious traffic accident at the age of 11 years, and being unable to walk between 11-14 years of age.
My one puzzlement with me being a Roman Catholic, was the common use of the term, 'Having a Protestant work ethic.' 'Didn't Roman Catholics also possess this work ethic?' I would ask myself. It was only in later life, as a result of my interest in all major religions in the world that I learned of its origin. The Protestant work ethic, sometimes referred to as the Puritan work ethic, is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes that hard work, discipline and frugality are a direct result of a person's subscription to the values espoused by the Protestant faith, particularly Calvanism. This is in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession and receiving the sacrament in the Roman Catholic tradition. In short; in the eyes of most Protestants of the time, Roman Catholics were thought to consider going to church as often as possible as being far more important than going to work!
It was normal for the working classes to work hard to survive, and whatever they did, all possessed a pride in their work that made them do their jobs better and in a more 'positive' spirit, as displayed by whistling. Every day during my childhood years, I grew up to the sound of whistling all around me. The milk man whistled, the postman whistled, the coal man whistled; they all whistled as they went merrily about their daily work. One couldn't walk down the street without hearing someone whistling a tune. I frequently listened outside the bathroom door as someone having a bath whistled in gay abandon. Indeed, one of my father's favourite artists was the late Ronnie Ronalde, whom history will record as having been the world's greatest whistler. Ronnie could be heard on the radio most days of the week.
My father would have been very pleased to discover that in later life when I married Sheila on my 70th birthday, that Ronnie sent me a wedding present of an autographed compilation of his most famous whistling songs along with a signed copy of his latest biography. I never met Ronnie, but my good friend Graham Smith, who knew him and his wife very well, arranged this special treat as a wedding surprise.
As a student of British History, I have often read or heard of our brave soldiers whistling in unison as they climbed out of their muddy trenches, fixed bayonets and marched towards the gunfire of the enemy, with almost no chance of moving fifty yards across 'No Man's Land' before they were mowed down by machine gun fire.
After the war and a newer form of austerity crept in before the Welfare State had been fully established, Great Britain gradually stopped whistling. By the 1960's, whistling had become a lost art. A part of my life that I'd grown up with had gone from my every day experiences. When I first started work, everyone whistled on the shop floor. I also know that it wasn't uncommon for someone to whistle when they were afraid or about some murky business in the quiet of night.
As the years rolled on past the 60's, through the 70' and into the 80's, the only two types of whistlers one would hear of would be a farmer with their sheepdog and a building worker seeing a pretty woman pass by. Today, such behaviour, which was once gratefully accepted by almost all women as a compliment, is viewed as sexual harassment and carries a hefty punishment for the admirer/offender. As to attending a football match in my youth, whenever observers wanted to show their disapproval at the referee's decision on the pitch, they would give out a high pitched whistle of contempt, which in my view, was far better than the responses of fans today. Today's disapproval by the football fans can include, booing, name-calling in a way that questions the legitimacy of a player's birth or sexuality, f...ing and blinding, fighting with opposing fans, throwing coins at the players on the pitch or ripping up seats!
I leave you with one of my father's favourite recordings." William Forde: October 26th, 2016.