It happened in every cottage garden, in every street that rattled past underneath the railway bridges, in every slum-yard, from every window, upper and lower. As the leave train passed the people all for the moment dropped whatever they were doing and ran to wave a hand at it. The children in every garden dropped their games and ran to the fence and clambered up to wave these tired men out of sight. The servant at the upper window let her work go and waved; the mother of the family and the girls in the sitting-room downstairs came to the window and waved; the woman washing in the tub in the back-yard straightened herself up and waved; the little grocer out with his wife and the perambulator waved, and the wife waved, and the infant in the perambulator waved; the boys playing pitch-and-toss on the pavement ran towards the railway bridge and waved; the young lady out for a walk with her young man waved—not at all a suppressed welcome, quite the reverse of half-hearted; the young man waved, much more demurely, but still he did wave. The flapper on the lawn threw down her tennis-racket and simply flung kisses; and her two young brothers expressed themselves quite as emphatically in their own manner; the old man at the corner and the grocer-boy from his cart waved. For a quarter of an hour, while that train wound in through the London suburbs, every human being that was near dropped his work and gave it a welcome.
I have seen many great ceremonies in England, and they have left me as cold as ice. There have been big set pieces even in this war, with brass bands and lines of policemen and cheering crowds and long accounts of it afterwards in the newspapers. But I have never seen any demonstration that could compare with this simple spontaneous welcome by the families of London. It was quite unrehearsed and quite unreported. No one had arranged it, and no one was going to write big headlines about it next day. The people in one garden did not even know what the people in the next garden were doing—or want to know. The servant at the upper window did not know that the mistress was at the lower window doing exactly as she was, and vice versa. For the first time in one’s experience one had experienced a genuine, whole-hearted, common feeling running through all the English people—every man, woman and child, without distinction, bound in one common interest which, for the time being, was moving the whole nation. And I shall never forget it.
It was the most wonderful welcome—I am not exaggerating when I say that it was one of the most wonderful and most inspiriting sights that I have ever seen. I do not know whether the rulers of the country are aware of it. But I do not believe for a moment that this people can go back after the war to the attitude by which each of those families was to all the others only so much prospective monetary gain or loss.