Owing to my family connection it is for undergraduates of the University of Cambridge that I have known best, but to not think the undergraduates of other universities are very different. There is at Cambridge a large proportion of men who have come to the university from secondary schools, what you call your public schools, whereas at Oxford the majority have been educated at what we call the public schools and you call private schools. In consequence there is, I think, at Cambridge a more democratic feeling and a greater inclination to be interested in advanced ideas.
During the years that immediately preceeded the war there was in the universities a good deal of communist feeling but it was a parlor communism; young men were at college by favor of the capitalistic system and however vehement in debate they were in their attacks on privilege few of them showed any inclination to put their theories into practice and surrender the advantages they enjoyed. When they had gotten their degrees and entered upon the serious job of earning a living the the majority changed their minds and received a reference to their old theories with some confusion. But their adherence to the Communist party had at least the good result; it caused many of them to engage in social service work while they were still at the university, where they did good and useful work, and this they have preservered with even though their opinions have changed.
At the same time there was a strong pacifist movement and many
Then came the war and within six months compulsory service. It was accepted by the nation with amazing unanimity. But large numbers of young men, young men of all classes, had not waited for this, but had joined up of their own free will. When conscription was introduced special measures were taken to deal fairly with conscientious objectors; it appeared that there were astonishingly few of them and what is interesting is that as the older men were drafted they grew fewer and and fewer.
There was a small number of conscientious objectors among the lads of twenty and twenty-one, but hardly any among the men between twenty-eight and thirty-five. It seems fair to conclude that the reasons which influenced very young men who had little experience of the rough and tumble of life scarcely seemed valid to those who had the responsibilities of a wife and children, who had occupations which gave them their livelihood and who in consequence had a stake in the welfare of the country. Army life proved unexpectedly popular among the slum-dwellers. They had better clothes, better beds and better food than they had over had before; they enjoyed the change of work and the regular and healthful exercise greatly improved their physique; and the uniform gave them prestige among their fellows when they came back on leave. I don't know how many women, wives and mothers, said to me of the son or husband who had been drafted: "It's made a man of him."
The war has been going on for eighteen months and many of the undergraduates, and young men in business and in professions, who joined up or were drafted have become officers. They all spent six months in the ranks and those whom I talked to look upon it as the happiest time of their lives. Indeed, many liked it so much that they were anxious to stay and only accepted commissions on irresistible pressure. I suppose this is the first time in English history that the classes have been thrown into intimate contact and the result has been, unless I am a very incompetent observer, a great dissolution of those class distinctions which have been such an unhappy feature of British civilization. To their surprise rich and poor, gentlemen's some and the sons of artisans, discovered that they were very much the same sort of people. The common danger, the propinquity into which all are forced when they take shelter at night against bombardment, the mutual help when persons lie dead or wounded all about and houses are destroyed and all possessions lost, have united the nation in a new sympathy and comradeship. When your Mr. Kennedy said that democracy was dead in Britain he didn't know what he was talking about; democracy, not political democracy, that we have had for many years, but social democracy, is just born.