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I was a little miffed at a suggestion in a history of the Royal Flying Corps that life in the trenches during the First World War offered an improvement in quality of life for the numerous slum dwellers who found themselves sent to the front line. A bit patronizing, I thought. But I think the author got the idea from a classic novel about the war in the air called Winged Victory. The point made by a fictional pilot in the book was that he couldn’t see what motivated the downtrodden slum dwellers to fight for a country that treated them so badly. Good question. The Second Boer War of 1899-1902 resulted in a flood of volunteers to fight in South Africa. But the authorities were appalled by how many of them had to be rejected because they were in such poor physical condition, rotten teeth being a particular worry (a quick survey of the newspapers for 1900 and 1901 shows that on several occasions as many as 50% of Edinburgh volunteers were rejected on medical grounds). The school dinner programme came just in time to beef up the boys who would be sent for slaughter 1914-18. And the Land Fit for Heroes promised to the survivors by Prime Minister David Lloyd George failed to materialise. The children of the warriors of the First World War were a little smarter and less trusting when the second round broke out in 1939. It was clear the status quo would not be acceptable after the war was won. It is only recently that the Establishment has dared to start taking away what they successfully fought for 1939-45. Mind you, British veterans of the fighting 1939-45 are becoming scarce on the ground. 

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