CHAPTER XXV—THE HUNGER WAIL
“My father has more stamina than I, for he is country-born.”
The speaker, a bright young East Ender, was lamenting his poor physical development.
“Look at my scrawny arm, will you.” He pulled up his sleeve. “Not enough to eat, that’s what’s the matter with it. Oh, not now. I have what I want to eat these days. But it’s too late. It can’t make up for what I didn’t have to eat when I was a kiddy. Dad came up to London from the Fen Country. Mother died, and there were six of us kiddies and dad living in two small rooms.
“He had hard times, dad did. He might have chucked us, but he didn’t. He slaved all day, and at night he came home and cooked and cared for us. He was father and mother, both. He did his best, but we didn’t have enough to eat. We rarely saw meat, and then of the worst. And it is not good for growing kiddies to sit down to a dinner of bread and a bit of cheese, and not enough of it.
“And what’s the result? I am undersized, and I haven’t the stamina of my dad. It was starved out of me. In a couple of generations there’ll be no more of me here in London. Yet there’s my younger brother; he’s bigger and better developed. You see, dad and we children held together, and that accounts for it.”
“But I don’t see,” I objected. “I should think, under such conditions, that the vitality should decrease and the younger children be born weaker and weaker.”
“Not when they hold together,” he replied. “Whenever you come along in the East End and see a child of from eight to twelve, good-sized, well-developed, and healthy-looking, just you ask and you will find that it is the youngest in the family, or at least is one of the younger. The way of it is this: the older children starve more than the younger ones. By the time the younger ones come along, the older ones are starting to work, and there is more money coming in, and more food to go around.”
He pulled down his sleeve, a concrete instance of where chronic semi-starvation kills not, but stunts. His voice was but one among the myriads that raise the cry of the hunger wail in the greatest empire in the world. On any one day, over 1,000,000 people are in receipt of poor-law relief in the United Kingdom. One in eleven of the whole working-class receive poor-law relief in the course of the year; 37,500,000 people receive less than 12 pounds per month, per family; and a constant army of 8,000,000 lives on the border of starvation.
A committee of the London County school board makes this declaration: “At times, when there is no special distress, 55,000 children in a state of hunger, which makes it useless to attempt to teach them, are in the schools of London alone.” The italics are mine. “When there is no special distress” means good times in England; for the people of England have come to look upon starvation and suffering, which they call “distress,” as part of the social order. Chronic starvation is looked upon as a matter of course. It is only when acute starvation makes its appearance on a large scale that they think something is unusual