Things That Could Have Been

Philip Gegan

I’m in my mid-70s now, the time of life when it’s not uncommon to look back and think what life was like 50 or 60 years ago, and things that could have been.

And to think, as well, about the path that I have taken in life, and what were the most influencial factors that made me take that path.

In my case, one of the most important events that was to shape my whole future was the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (“UDI”), that took place in November 1965. I was seventeen and at the start of my second (and final) year in the sixth form at school. The previous year had seen a General Election and that had to some extent crystallised political opinion within our class of around 25 or so pupils, who made up the “Upper Sixth Arts”. I had avoided the many unofficial debates that had taken place at that time, because I didn’t know quite what stance to take. I was opposed to Labour on account of what my parents had told me about the Labour Government of 1945-51, but I wasn’t very happy with what the Conservative Government had been doing or impressed with the personalities associated with it.

To support the Liberal Party was out of the question, so I was rather in limbo, but nevertheless often attacked verbally by my fellow pupils because I didn’t support Labour. Most of them were fully taken in by the Labour Manifesto (“Let’s Go With Labour!”), but a few of them, still buoyed up by the 1962 “Liberal Revival”, manifested by Eric Lubbock’s victory for the Liberals at the nearby Orpington by-election, supported the Liberals.

Point to note here. Where I and my fellow pupils lived was a most desirable part of the country, though none of us appreciated it at the time. In the valley of the River Cray, where the overflow housing from Orpington and Petts Wood met the woodlands of North-West Kent, there was Chislehurst Common to the north-east, Petts Wood itself to the north, Orpington to the south, and the main A20 road running from London to the Channel Ports, cutting off St Mary Cray and Sidcup. London was comfortably far enough away at around ten or twelve miles, but close enough for a school visit to one of its theatres, or to catch a train up to Stratford upon Avon to see a Shakespeare play.

The inhabitants of the area were almost exclusively White. That was something that, in those days, was just taken for granted. There weren’t any black or asian pupils in the school. Not that there was any rule preventing it, of course. There just weren’t any living in the catchment area. None of the shops were owned or staffed by non-Whites. At home, there weren’t any non-Whites to speak of on the TV or radio. England’s cricket and football teams contained English players, and they were, of course, White. The postmen (and women, if there were any) were, of course, White. And English, apart from perhaps one or two Scots and Welsh. If one of your parents went to see a solicitor or accountant, a doctor or a dentist, an optician or a hairdresser, those people were invariably White. After all, that was obvious. Common sense. We lived in England, didn’t we? So what else would you expect?

Things That Could Have Been – if only!

But people knew what was going on. They just didn’t like to talk about it. You only had to take a bus to a neighbouring town and you would probably be giving your bus fare to a black bus conductor. That was something that had crept up on us over the last five to ten years.

Just along the road, the busy A20 that ran up to London, chock-a-block with commuter traffic each morning and evening, things were different. I think there was a vague realisation at that time in places like Orpington, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup and Foots Cray. With cars and motor cycles now commonplace and travel easy and cheap, folks could see for themselves what was happening in parts of south London, not so far away, and confirm the rumours.

Even back in those days whole streets in some areas of the inner London suburbs were being occupied by blacks and other ethnic aliens. And occasionally on the TV there were programmes featuring life in northern towns which were now host to hundreds, even thousands, of coloured immigrants, as we were bold enough to call them in those days.

So that was the backdrop to the situation I found myself in at that time. My classmates and I engaged in a debate nearly every school day, sometimes humourous, sometimes hostile and intense, over the question of whether Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith was right to declare UDI. He had done so in an attempt to preserve White rule in a country where, at that time, there were around 4 million inhabitants, only around a quarter of a million of whom were White.

Things I didn’t understand

There was something I really didn’t understand about all this. My classmates were, almost without exception, very intelligent, and several were extremely witty as well. After all, seventeen and eighteen year olds know everything worth knowing, right? And yet, in spite of all this intelligence, they all fell for the “majority rule” argument put out by all leftists when discussing colonial rule and the question of votes for natives of colonial countries. It was so simple. There were more blacks than there were Whites in Rhodesia, so therefore it was their country. The blacks should have equal voting rights and thereby handed the responsibility of running the country.

The fact that the Whites and their ancestors had built the country in the first place by providing the essential skills and building the infrastructure required for the whole system to function was contemptuously ignored. The fact that in every other African country where “majority rule” had been imposed by Westminster the result had invariably been chaos and bloodshed, especially black-on-black, was deemed irrelevant. The fact that the ability of large numbers of blacks to produce large numbers of children (kept alive through infancy to pro-creation age by the medical knowledge and skills introduced by Whites) was no qualification, on its own, for running a highly advanced country, was also very unpopular whenever I raised it.

Often I had my back to the wall, figuratively speaking. I stuck to my guns in spite of some of these simplified facts being put to me again and again. I knew nothing about racial differencies in those days. I just relied on instinct, and the fact that I knew I was right.

By the end of that academic year, when we had all taken our A-level exams and were leaving school, I had convinced one of my detractors that, actually, I was right. I’ve always regarded that as quite an accomplishment, especially as he had been the school representative at a regional school debating contest just a few months earlier.

When I left school, I worked for a year in the Strand, London, just opposite the Law Courts. It was a small insurance office with about 30 to 35 people of all ages working there. One of the life office reps used to buy the Yorkshire Post because it was “a good right wing newspaper”, but apart from him no-one seemed to be interested in politics or the direction the country was being taken.

It was the same with my friends at home. I was active in a sports club, and enjoyed the social life that went with it. Just as at school, I sometimes found myself in a heated debate about some aspect of politics where I was out of line with orthodox, respectable, thinking. Usually the topic was coloured immigration or our proposed membership of what was then the EEC (European Economic Community). What was it with these people, I often wondered. Why did they take a viewpoint that was so at variance with common sense? Because it was common sense that should have prevailed in these arguments.

Were they trying to be clever? They couldn’t all be stupid. Some of them went to university. I was yet to learn how a university education almost guaranteed a left-wing viewpoint on everything. Probably those people, or those of them that are still alive, retain their left-wing politics. Others were open to argument, and many came to agree, broadly, with my position. But they would never commit themselves. They were happy just to complain about the state of the country, and the way the politicians were selling it down the river. But they would never actually do anything.

Even when I introduced them to party literature, after I had joined the National Front and nailed my colours to the mast, they still wouldn’t actually do anything, other than agree with me. Were they just humouring me, pretending they agreed just for the sake of it, but never intending to help do anything about the situation? I don’t think so. I knew them too well for that.

I lost touch with most of these friends when I was forced to move to another part of the country. I made new friends in the National Front which I largely kept in spite of my relocation. I sometimes wonder now if any of my former friends regret their lack of action back in the 1960s and 1970s. Do they look around now at the state of the country, or read things in the newspaper, or see the news reports on the television, and have any feelings of remorse? Because it’s almost too late to do anything now. But it wasn’t back then, when they had other things to do….