Sunday, 14 September 2014

House of Help

Non-fiction ~ article
Published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 11th November 1924*
1,165 words
(First read 16/09/14)

A brief outline of the history and work of the League of Remembrance, a charitable organization founded during the First World War "as a living memorial to those who gave their lives in the service of their country" and still going a hundred years later. The article ends with a call for new subscribers.

*Undoubtedly published elsewhere too, but this is where I stumbled across it. 

The article is reproduced below.  As far as I know, this is the first time it's appeared in full and free of charge before a (theoretically) worldwide audience in 90 years.

House of Help by E. F. Benson
There are a great many things in the lives of most of us which we would do well to forget; we need some anti-Pelman aid to oblivion with regard to them.
Prominent and conspicuous among these are injuries and slights which, rightly or wrongly, we believe that others have inflicted on us, but by the perversity of human nature it is precisely such things as these of which our memory shows itself so amazingly tenacious. Most of us need no memory-system to enable us to preserve the vividness of them; we are able to recollect them with a wealth of detail, we dwell on them with secret gusto, and refresh their roots with water-cans of malice to encourage more luxuriant growth.
It is by the same perversity of human nature that the recollections which we should be proud to cherish, the roots of which, instead of impoverishing, sweeten and enrich our minds, are precisely those which we leave to take care of themselves, for when we have reason to be grateful to those who have done something for us, the dear debt is not one that we naturally remember; we have to remind ourselves of it.
There was a time not so very long ago, when our national gratitude was alive and eager, and to do us all justice we responded pretty well. The war was in the foreground and the middle distance and the background of our daily existence, we could not get away from its immediate presence, nor from the thought of those who were our living shield and defence. We were in consequence quite industrious and generous for the million needs of those who were fighting, and for the alleviation and comfort of the wounded.
Wise Forgetting
And then when the war was won and the shattering shells screamed no more, we all, with good sens, tried to forget the horrors of it and start again. That was wise: forgetfulness was best for much that the nation had been through, but into that nightmare rubbish-heap we threw certain things that should have been saved.
There were some, however, who when they started again, and when the burden of their war-work slipped from their shoulders, did not let slip with it the burden of their gratitude, but clung to it as to a staff for their steps, and a sacrament for their spiritual refreshment. They did not abandon their task or tell themselves that they needed and deserved a complete holiday, but transmuted their activities into a work for the living, in memory of the dead.
Among these were the workers and organisers of the War Hospital Supply Depots, who throughout the war had been making for the hospitals garments and bandages and all those things which the wounded needed. They when the war was over did not say “Our work is done,” but with the memory of those for whom they had done it alive in their hearts, turned themselves into the League of Remembrance, and from that day to this, in remembrance of the dead, they devoted themselves to the succour of the suffering of the living, and testify to the sincerity of their gratitude by their industry in aid of hospitals and infant welfare centres.
The Ever-Burning Light
Their headquarters are at 1 Marlborough Gate, a couple of minutes' walk from Lancaster Gate Tube Station, and five minutes on a 'bus from the Marble Arch. The memory of the dead imperishably burns there, like a lamp set before a shrine; on the walls of the staircases are numberless little metal plaques given by the friends and relatives of the fallen to commemorate their sacrifice, and there, too, is inscribed the message sent by the King to the nearest relatives of the dead.
But more brightly than that burns the work that goes on daily for the relief of the suffering sick, for this is no sentimental shrine, but one that is built of practical industry. Instead of the war hospitals which the works of the League supplied, they now supply the hospitals which are always with us and always in need, and to all parts of the country go out their merciful bales. All hospitals are invited to send the bare materials and patterns of what they want for their patients, blankets, lint and linen, and they receive in return the finished articles; bed-jackets, night-gowns, sheets, baby garments for maternity-wards, bandages, overalls ~ whatever they ask for. They pay nothing for [the] work involved, and those who know what, nowadays, is the expense of such manufacture, and its cost, if purchased, will best appreciate the value of such an institution. The demand for such work is enormous, but never yet has the League of Remembrance refused to execute an order.
The organisation is of the simplest and most efficient. The workers are all voluntary and unpaid. Some come every day, others who have ties which cannot be neglected, for a day or two every week, other who are busier, for an hour or two. But all give their time and their industry for the sake of the living who are suffering, in remembrance of the dead. Each workroom is presided over by the widow or dependent of some officer fallen in the war who needs help, and these are paid. The main running expenses therefore of the establishment form part of the tribute of gratitude and remembrance.
Direct Service
This House of Help is extremely practical; it has also its social side. There are sitting-room, library and dining-room for its members, there are weekly entertainments and concerts (paid for out of an earmarked fund) for men wounded in the war and still in hospital. Six years have elapsed since the armistice, and it is probably news to many that there are hundreds of men who have spent six years at least in hospital, and are still undischarged. But when you once know that, it is not easy to forget it: six years is a long time, and the League does not forget.
What the League needs is a wider membership that shall bring in more funds. It needs them not only because it lacks endowment of any kind, and at present can only continue its work at all on current subscriptions, but because it needs more workers for whom is necessary a larger accommodation. There is not a foot of space in its present premises which is not used, and if they were doubled there would be workers enough to fill them, and thus the orders from the hospitals would be more speedily executed. Workers there are in plenty; what is needed is members of the League, men and women alike, who by their subscriptions will enable it to extend its activities. The subscription for London members is two guineas a year, for other members one guinea, and these small sums entitle the subscriber to all Club privileges. It is not necessary to be a worker to join the League.

Reproduced from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 11/11/1924

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