5. Robinson after the War: London 1946-1951
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CHAPTER FIVE Robinson after the War: London 1946-1951 I see that Parliament's first act after the end of the war in Europe has been to rescind the Bill making it a punishable offence to spread gloom and despondency. So great was our danger in certain years that we were forbidden to look miserable . Now we can be as unhappy as we please. Freedom is returning. —Vere Hodgson1 ALTHOUGH the end of World War II did not immediately mean freedom for Abraham Robinson—at least not from his military service at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough—he and Renee had survived the war happier than many. They were married, Renee had a well-paying, interesting position as a fashion designer, and Abby could finally think seriously again about the future. He looked forward to his release from government service, and longed to return to pure mathematics . But first there was a period of transition. ENGLAND AFTER THE WAR When the facts and figures—and especially the photographs—of the devastation wrought upon the rest of Europe as a result of the war became known, it was clear that Britain had not fared as badly as her neighbors across the channel. England had at least been spared actual combat on her own soil, but the German Blitz and prolonged air attacks had done substantial damage. Recovery was slow from the destruction caused by German bombs and rockets, and the frequently devastating fires that, in their wake, had destroyed considerable parts of London and such memorable targets as Coventry. Potentially more problematic was the immediate economic disaster facing the country. As soon as the two American atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, abruptly ending the war in the Pacific, World War II was officially over. So too was the American lend-lease program. Throughout the war the United States had provided billions of dollars in contributions and credits to England and 1 Mosley 1971, p. 378. 132 - Chapter Five the rest of Allied Europe, but overnight these credits turned into debts. As Churchill realized, this could well mean financial ruin. Churchill's conservative government called for elections on May 23, 1945, only two weeks after VE-Day. Scarcely a month later the electorate went to the polls, and the Labour Party's resounding victory on July 25 came as a shock to many, especially because the mandate was so clear—in the House of Commons, Labour won by a margin of 183 over all of the other parties combined. That same evening Churchill rode to Buckingham Palace in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce and tendered his resignation to George VI. It was a sign of the profound changes to come that the newly elected prime minister, Clement Atlee, arrived moments later in an ordinary Standard Ten, his wife at the wheel. The king invited Atlee to form a new government, and for six years Labour set about to create a new era in England.2 The Labour government was faced with the immediate task of rebuilding the country—economically as well as socially. As the world looked tentatively ahead to the atomic age, England soon found herself not at peace but mired in the Cold War. The brilliant success of the Royal Air Force during World War II, however, would mean that considerable emphasis would now be placed upon developing air power. Robinson was well placed to benefit from this shift in strategic emphasis , for his successful work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment put him in an excellent position to trade on that expertise. Even before he was released from government service, Robinson had also begun to reestablish contacts with mathematicians throughout Britain and abroad, reaffirming in the process the ultimate importance of pure mathematics in his life as a theoretician. BACK T O M A T H E M A T I C S In February of 1946 Robinson wrote to Ivor Etherington, thanking him warmly for all of his previously unacknowledged help: Dear Dr. Etherington, I believe that in 1941 you were kind enough to present a paper of mine ("On a variation of the distributive law")3 to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. At that time I was in the Forces, and I did not find out that the paper had been published until much later, when I had joined the Scientific Civil Service. However, now that the war is over, I am again taking a more active interest in pure Maths., in addition...