01 February 2017, The Tablet

A lost way of thinking: the sensibilities of a generation brought up between the wars


For many, there appears to be a marked difference between the sensibilities and behaviour of people today and those of the generation that grew up in these islands between the wars. The death of an uncle serves as a reminder of attributes that once seemed natural to everyone

One week ago I had an uncle; now I have none. My Uncle Frank died at 94. It’s one of those bereavements that cuts surprisingly deep. Every man’s loss diminishes me, but that of someone born in 1922 diminishes us rather differently.

It means a loss of one of the last remaining living links with the generation that grew up between the wars, leaving the Queen still going strong. There are parts of every individual that belong to him alone, but parts that are formed by the culture in which he grew up; my uncle saw the Crystal Palace burn to the ground as a child.

What were the attributes of that generation, given that individuals vary wildly within a generation and, in my family, between those in Ireland and England? Indeed, between classes. There’s an essay to be written about charm; characteristic of upper-class women of that generation, of whom I have known several. It was a learned skill, as much a social asset as good looks, and which made them good company at house parties, dinner parties, dances, and in managing their menfolk. It was made redundant by feminism.

Thrift was one characteristic that decisively set my uncle’s generation apart from their grandchildren.

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