« ПретходнаНастави »
probably had never written a business letter in their lives, and who had no knowledge of how to decipher official documents.
No wonder the paymasters complained of receiving letters without the writer's address, or marriage and birth certificates without any intimation of the source from whence they came, or that they got information about all matters except that for which they asked. The whole thing would have been simple if men had been required to declare their dependents at the time of enlisting, and then and there to produce marriage and birth certificates. The officer in charge would then have been able to certify that the matter was in order, and the recruit would have taken the paper to his commanding officer for the insertion of the regimental number and other particulars. After this it would have been forwarded to the man's paymaster, who would thus have been in a position to send the remittance to the woman. Had this fairly obvious plan been carried out the remittance would have reached the woman within a week or so of the man's enlistment. The absence of any such plan produced a state of confusion which completely overwhelmed the Paymaster's Department. Meanwhile many soldiers' families were in a condition of the utmost distress. The question of relief was urgent, and the organisers of the National Relief Fund turned to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association as the only body in existence with experience in ministering to the needs of the families of our soldiers and sailors. But this Association was only on a peace basis, and was limited to dealing with hard cases not covered by Government allowances; it had no framework ready for expanding sufficiently wide to meet the requirements of such a war as the present. All that could be done was to build upon its very limited foundations such a structure as was possible at the moment.
It is desirable to explain a little more fully how the difficulties arose and how they were dealt with. The first effects of the war were to depress trade and to make unemployment general. The industrial outlook became very black. The resulting economic pressure, combined with real patriotism, brought recruits to the army in such numbers that the Paymaster's Department was utterly unable to cope with the mass of correspondence and the multitude of claims. The wives and children of the men of the new army were left without any Government support for many weeks. In the numerous cases where the men had been unemployed for some time before enlistment their homes were already distressed and relief was needed at once. To make matters worse, those who had been always used to a weekly allowance out of the husband's weekly wage were given monthly drafts. As the arrears of payment accumulated the muddle in the Paymaster's Department grew steadily worse. In this emergency the War Office, which had usually looked upon all civilian efforts with jealousy or contempt, now adopted a very friendly attitude towards the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. That organisation, acting on behalf of the National Relief Fund, made advances to the women to enable them to carry on until the separation allowances came through. But the delays in the Paymaster's Department were so great that the burden of these advances began seriously to deplete the National Relief Fund. To meet this difficulty the War Office, towards the end of 1914, agreed that the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association was also to act as the official agent of the War Office in making weekly loans to the soldiers' wives until their allowances were ready to be paid. Wherever such loans were made the War Office undertook to recover the money from the arrears of payment due to the women, In this way the same money was used again and again, and the great drain upon the National Relief Fund was checked. At the same time the women were protected from any inconvenience caused by the delays of the paymasters.
Notwithstanding that the Post Office had been successfully used in connexion with the Old Age Pension Act for making the weekly payments to the aged pensioners, the War Office had not foreseen the advisability of enlisting this agency for the payment of army allowances. Indeed weeks of war had passed before the War Office could be persuaded to pay its allowances weekly through the Post Office.
Perhaps the greatest difficulties were those created by the constant changing of regulations and the amounts of the allowances by the Government, who were vainly attempting to grope their way through the fog of war to some satisfactory system which should have been quietly and successfully thought out in days of peace. At first allowances were only granted to wives and children. Where a man had married
a widow with children, the latter were excluded from army allowances, as they were not considered the children of the soldier; widowed mothers and invalid parents were also excluded. By the spring of 1915 the Government was made to see that it had drawn the line too tight; then it jumped too far the other way, for it not only brought in all children and other dependents of the soldier, but it opened the door to fictitious claims, and the system became so lax that the only real test of dependency was plausibility—the greatest liar getting the largest allowance. Even now vast numbers of able-bodied men in regular employment, earning far in excess of pre-war wages, are drawing weekly Government allowances through the Post Office on the ridiculous ground that they have suffered some financial loss by their sons having joined the colours.
Similar dishonesty has been rendered possible by the failure of the War Office to consult the Poor Law Authorities. Here is a case in point. The parents of two sons applied to the Poor Law Authorities for out-relief, and when asked what support they derived from their sons pleaded that neither son could render any help, as they could scarcely meet the cost of their own maintenance. A few months later one son en listed, and the parents successfully claimed that this particular son was their main support. Again a few months passed, and the other son also enlisted, when the parents claimed, with partial success, that this son also was their main support. A relieving officer attached to the West Ham Union recently remarked that previous to the war he rarely found sons who helped their parents, but when they enlisted they all appeared to be good sons.
The following case has also come under the notice of the present writer. A man in regular employment had three sons. Before the war he would have scorned to have had it said that he made any profit out of them. After the outbreak of war one son left home to earn a living elsewhere; a second got married and went to his new home. In neither case did the father allege that he suffered any loss. But when the third son joined the army the parents at once put in a successful claim against the Government for taking away their good son, on whom they were partly dependent.
These claims from able-bodied parents not only involved
a great waste of national funds, but they overwhelmed the Paymaster's Department again just at a time when it was beginning to straighten itself out after the first shock of war. The allowances to the wives and children were made in accordance with a scale, and therefore involved no inquiry beyond the establishment of the fact that they were the dependents of the soldier, which could be readily proved by the marriage and birth certificates. But the claims from able-bodied parents, which simply poured in, required a separate inquiry in each case, and each claim, if accepted, had to be specially assessed, thus placing an intolerable strain upon the staff which had to deal with the claim, and also upon the Post Office, which had to make the weekly payments. The separate inquiries naturally caused long delays, thus adding to the labours of those who undertook the provision of temporary assistance. Fortunately the wave of patriotism which swept through the country in the early days of the war brought an unlimited number of voluntary workers, as most people with leisure felt that they ought to do something to assist with war work. It was remarkable to see how readily those who had never before been called upon to do useful work settled down to the drudgery involved in office work and in the work of investigation. The duties were arduous and exhausting, yet they were accepted without a murmur although the staffs were in almost all cases entirely composed of volunteers. Every volunteer had to undertake any duty, however unpleasant or monotonous. The offices of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association were often open from nine or ten in the morning until the corresponding hours in the evening, whilst Sundays were largely devoted to accounts and other homework. Outside the office the duties largely consisted in visiting and investigating. It was here especially that the field lay open to vast possibilities for good, but everything depended upon the personnel of the visitors. Some visitors were content to do their actual duty by making the requisite inquiries and paying over the allowance due ; but the majority took advantage of the opportunities which were offered and became real friends to the women. It was not the patronising lady who had called to give some little charity. War had wiped out, or had deadened, that pride of class. The new army recognises no class distinctions; the risks and honours are
common to all, whether officers or men, and the officers' wives, having breathed something of this same spirit, have-sometimes at the request of their husbands—thrown themselves whole-heartedly into the work of helping their poorer sisters. Often has the officer's wife, after receiving the communication which tells her that she has become a widow, bravely dried her eyes and gone out to give sympathy and help to some private's wife who has received the same dread message. Those who enter upon the work in this spirit have a wide and varied field for their labours.
How fully the value of their kindly work is appreciated by the responsible authorities the following painful illustration shows. A soldier in France had been shot by order of courtmartial. The official at the War Office charged with the duty of sending the information to the widow mother, instead of despatching it at once, very humanely delayed the message a little so that arrangements could be made for a lady to visit the poor mother, to break the terrible news to her, and to be present when the official communication arrived.
In many cases a real friendship has arisen between the visitors and the soldiers' wives on their lists. The help of the visitors is sought in connexion with such subjects as may be in dispute with the Paymaster; they are asked to assist in filling up official forms, in obtaining letters for hospitals or institutions, in finding suitable employment for boys and girls, in dealing with landlords or tradesmen who appear to be acting harshly. In this latter respect a great deal of trouble has been experienced with hire-purchase firms. Some of these firms take advantage of the hirer's temporary inability to keep up the periodical payments, and remove the article, confiscating the payments already made, notwithstanding that the purchase may have been almost completed. On the other hand, it has been, at times, a pleasant surprise to find that money-lenders-a class who generally have a reputation for hard bargaining-have been ready, at the request of district officers of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, to settle claims in a manner most favourable to the soldiers' wives.
Among the administrative difficulties that have to be dealt with, the following may be mentioned :-If a soldier's wife is taken to an infirmary or other rate-aided institution