Inflation is a Bitch: Post-War Perspective in a Poem

“History has a way of repeating itself.”

Oft said and often a collective groan emanates from those that have to hear this statement.

The realization of this is frequently ignore as our collective psyches note new events in the social, economic, and political world that we may have seen before in our lifetimes, or some time in the near or distant pass.

Economic cycles are one such characteristic to be noted. Boom. Bust. Depression. Recession. Inflation.

But who would know that a poem written over a century ago would bring inflation into relief?


GOING UP!

We can scarcely blame the Government, now the war is o’er and won,
                For getting rid of useless old war stock,
But we registered a mild surprise when the folks at Ottawa
                Disposed of all those aeroplanes en bloc.
We feel they should have given every workingman a ‘plane,
                And then have taught the workingman to fly,
So that as the prices of victuals soared, he’d have a fighting chance
                Of reaching them when they had got sky high.

Source: Poems by the late Sgt. Fred Young 53180, 1871-1954. 18th Battalion Association. 1956. Page 16.


Today inflation’s causes can be attributed to the economic impacts of COVID and I am sure a myriad of factors too complex to be explained in a blog post about a post-World War 1 poem, but Sergeant Fred Young – the Poet Laurate of the 18th Battalion expressed his feelings about post-war inflation in 8-lines of a short poem called “GOING UP!”

By 1918 the price of living index was up 45% from the prices recorded in 1913.[i]

This poem reflects his feelings about inflation and the waste of war.

To give some idea of the scale of aircraft disposed of Canadian Aeroplanes Limited built 1,210 JN-4 (Can) Canuck training aircraft.[ii] 680 of these were sold to the U.S. Air Service, leaving a balance from this one manufacturer of 530 possibly used for training in Canada. Not an unsubstantial amount.

Sergeant Young expresses some of the frustration of a veteran. Loosing years of peacetime income to come home to employment and financial pressures, coupled with the physical and psychological impacts of their service, Sergeant Young adroitly points out the contrast of the waste of the war coupled with the frustration of veterans trying to move forward in a world changing faster than they can comprehend.

His imagining of veterans using aircraft as transportation after the war reflects a belief in the development of the post-war aviation industry in the United States – a plane in every garage. Though this idea had its nascent expression before World War 2, it was the influx of military pilots trained during this war that gave hope to the expression of this idea and its execution. Alas, it would never be.

But Sergeant Young, perhaps unknowingly, expresses an idea would have been an interesting outcome. To take those war surplus aircraft and repurpose them other uses. The practicality of this at that time was limited and the Allied nations had a similar experience with disposing of aviation war assets after World War 2. A large factor being the advancement of propulsion and pressurization technologies making older aircraft quickly economically obsolete.


[i] Lew, B. and McInnus, M., n.d. Guns and Butter: World War I and the Canadian Economy. p.42.

[ii] Canada and the First World War. 2022. Battles and Fighting – Air War | Canada and the First World War. [online] Available at: <https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/battles-and-fighting/air-war/&gt; [Accessed 27 August 2022].

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