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Hurra for William Collins

There is much debate at the moment about the impact of the First World War. For a long time I believed that it had made my life tougher than it needed to be. Neither of my grandfathers met their fathers. Both of their fathers, who would be my great-grandfathers, were killed after volunteering to fight in the First World War. The two men left behind widows with three children a-piece. The lives of the families they left behind were hard; very hard. One of them had a good job on the printing presses at Glasgow-based book publisher Wm. Collins before he joined up. It would not have been unusual for his sons, grandsons, and even great-grandsons to follow him into the skilled and unionised world of commercial printing. And I could have been one of the afore-mentioned great-grandsons. I always liked and admired the print and production folk at the papers where I worked as a young journalist. I particularly liked the fact that they had a strong union. Media employers only needed to find people who could read and write to fill the columns of their newspapers or the short amount of broadcast airtime devoted to news. Even that’s a qualification they seem to have dispensed with. The BBC World Service told me this morning that Crimea had voted to split from Russia. Its Canadian equivalent informed me that the last words heard by the crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 jet had been “Alright, good night”. I suspect those were the last words known to have come from a crew member, in this case the last message broadcast by the co-pilot. Anyway, back to great grandfathers. I always thought great-grandpa’s death in Gallipoli had killed any chance of skilled unionised berth for his descendants. But recently I found out that Wm. Collins went out of its way in the 1920s and 30s to find jobs for the children of its workers killed 1914-19 when they themselves reached working age. I have no idea why my grandfather did not take up that offer. Perhaps his own service in the Second World War took him off in another direction. Maybe the hiring policy changed. But what modern day employer would even dream of having such a hiring policy?


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