8 Feb 65 : Air crash, British poverty, American healthcare : New York, USA

Monday 8th February 1965

Dear family,

Here we are back in Brooklyn and now working very hard. We have at last got the hang of the job and are completing each changeover very much quicker than at first.

We have to work in some pretty awful conditions at times, and usually end up covered in dirt and filth. However it’s nice to be able to start and finish when we like. Although we don’t, as you imagine I’m sure, take advantage of this, and usually have a call every morning at 7:15. Recently we have been oversleeping so we now have two calls, one at 7:15 and one at 7:30 just to make sure.

I expect you have heard by now of the terrible plane crash which happened tonight. It went in the sea just a few miles from where we are now, and as I write, rescue planes and helicopters are flying overhead, and there are boats in the bay. They keep interrupting the TV programmes, but there doesn’t seem to be much hope of any survivors. The water temperature is 37 degrees, and I don’t think many people could survive long in that.

There was a taxi driver on TV who said he had driven a man to the airport to catch the plane, and he kept urging the driver to go faster as he was afraid he may miss it. They arrived 8 minutes late but the plane was 21 minutes late leaving – so he made it, and now he’s dead.

(NOTE 1: Tony and Colin were staying in a hotel very close to New York’s JFK Airport. At 6.20pm that evening, Eastern Airlines Flight 663 had departed from JFK heading to Boston, Massachusetts with 79 passenger and five crew aboard. The night was extremely dark, with no moonlight. Tragically, there was an error in air control communications, leading to incorrect advisory being given to the pilot of Flight 663, and the pilot of an incoming plane – Pan Am 212 – which placed them into a collision course. Realising this, at just 200-500ft (60-90m) apart, both pilots took extreme manoeveres to escape collision. Tragically Flight 663 banked so steeply the pilot could not regain control. The plane plunged into the icy Atlantic Ocean, exploded on impact and sank, leaving no survivors.)

Mrs H (Colin’s mother) was telling Colin in his letter this week about the changes since the change of government. It appears that the prescription fee has been dropped and certain benefits have been increased. Mrs H tells us that prices of food have gone up due to the increase in petrol.

Poor old Britain takes a bit of a ‘knocking’ in the papers here, and it certainly seems as though things are getting worse. It seems as though they are making it easier for the out-of-work, and harder for the workers.

They made a big issue over here about Patrick Gordon Walker’s defeat and the decreased majority caused by it. Everyone here that we speak to rubs home the point that Britain is a poor country, and the awful truth is that we are rapidly beginning to realise that it is.

This is such a rich and prosperous country, and it is so easy to make, and borrow money, but they consider Britain to be a very poor relation.

The average wage here is $150 (£50) and so many things are much cheaper. Petrol is between 20 and 30 cents a gallon (approximately two shillings to two shillings and sixpence) and cigarettes are 35 cents for 20 (about two shillings and sixpence).

Generally speaking food is cheaper I think. The average American housewife spends about 19% of her money on food, which is quite low.

People’s attitude to ‘socialised medicine’ as it is called here is very odd. They are just not interested, which never ceases to amaze us. Another thing that we cannot understand is that NO women have babies at home. We have told women about how most women in England have them at home (not the first) and they generally go ‘Ugh – how disgusting’.

It’s completely unheard of here. The women never spend less than two weeks in hospital, and the delivery fee alone is $250, total bill is usually in the region of $650 (about £216).

Tonight we were talking to a woman who has six children and she has spent a small fortune having them. Another woman had been in hospital for five days, and had a minor operation, and the bill was $800, of which only $200 was covered by her policy.

I could go on and on, and yet still they don’t like our system. It wouldn’t work here because the doctors aren’t interested, and wouldn’t co-operate. The average doctor here can make $2,000 a week, which amounts to approximately £35,000 per year.

I am convinced this is why the women have to go to hospital to have their children, because if they have them at home, the doctors wouldn’t make so much out of it, so they don’t encourage it, in fact, they don’t even mention it – hence the horrified reactions we get. One woman said ‘It must be just like animals’!! This is one aspect of American life I don’t like at all.

To be continued…

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Note: The local election which is mentioned was notorious due to the racism displayed.

The Labour party had won control from the Conservatives in the 1964 general election. However in the February 1965 Smethwick election, the sitting Labour MP and shadow Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker lost to Conservative Peter Griffiths.

The area had seen two major trends in the post-war years: A decline in local industry and a growing immigrant population, especially from India. During the election campaign, letters, posters and stickers were widely distributed, stating:”if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

Although a Neo-Nazi claimed responsibility, the slogan was widely attributed to the Conservative party, and Peter Griffiths did not condemn it.  He was quoted as saying ‘I should think that is a manifestation of popular feeling. I would not  condemn anyone who said that’.

Labour’s new Prime Minister Harold Wilson branded Griffith a ‘parlimentary leper’ – but his win bolstered British racists. The first UK branch of the Ku Klux Klan was formed and burning crosses posted through the doors of non-white Smethwick residents.

In response, on 12 February 1965, Malcolm X visited the town, telling reporters he was ‘disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being treated badly.’ Tragically, nine days later, he was shot dead in New York.

The Labour Party regained Smethwick in the 1966 general election.

4 thoughts on “8 Feb 65 : Air crash, British poverty, American healthcare : New York, USA

  1. This is a fascinating read! What a great peek into life as it used to be. Especially interesting as it’s a foreigner’s perspective on America at that time. I’ll check back for updates!!

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  2. Thanks for your comment Eric, it’s really lovely to get feedback! Yes, I find it really fascinating as well – it’s the first time the family has been able to read all of these letters, so it’s a real journey of discovery for all of us. You could check out Tony’s letters from when he first arrives in New York – and when they’re working in the hotels for millionaires on Miami Beach. 🙂 (NB In a forthcoming letter they’re hanging out with Mafia faces and hitmen in Brooklyn….!)

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