Molly Keen’s Childhood Memories 1903-1921: An Introduction – Writing Lives

Molly Keen’s Childhood Memories 1903-1921: An Introduction

During Molly Keen’s childhood, along with her family, she faced the emergence of the First World War in 1914 when she was just 11 years old and the unfortunate separation of her family due to her mother’s poor health, and her two brothers enlisting to serve and fight for their country. The outbreak of war, and the death of her mother, reflect Keen’s troublesome and tough childhood, and also the trying times that many faced during this period. Her earlier memories, from 1903 to 1914 depict her love for her family, with her vivid descriptions of nature adding beauty to her story. However, such beauty is lost during the outbreak of The Great War and the effects of War itself destroys her childhood joys, with her fond memories soon becoming a passing and short memory due to the hard reality Molly had to face. The joyful memories of her past soon become part of the ‘calm before the storm’ of War. Emma Hannah, in her article “An Unhealed Wound: Britain and the First World War”, describes how “the memory of 1914-18 was reduced to images of mud, blood, and cemeteries”(Pg. 7), which further enhances the idea of the gruesome war that Molly and her loving family were yet to endure during her earlier childhood.

A World War One Recruitment Poster

Molly Keen describes her childhood initially as exceptionally tranquil, with a very loving family, including her hard-working father, her mother who suffered badly from illness, and then her two brothers and two sisters. She attended a school run by nuns with her older sister Winifred, who also is described as having looked after the mother a lot during the absence of their Father, who was a successful sign writer working long hours and who travelled by push bike. Molly’s brothers, John Charles, known as Jack, and Percy, are described as good young men, who helped to support the family whenever they could. However, the outbreak of the First World War meant they signed up to the military aged 17 and 16 respectively, and went to War. This was the first stage in her family’s separation, and thus makes “enlisting in the army” as a symbol of the horrors that young, prosperous families across Europe endured during the First World War.

Molly Keen consistently mentions the love she had for her Garden, including its apple tree

Molly speaks very often about nature, and her love for the blossoming flowers and fruit trees in her garden. The children of the Keen family were all given their own specific allotment in their garden, to do with as they pleased. This allowed them freedom, and the opportunity to design their own space for the first time, giving them maturity and satisfaction. However, Molly uses nature as metaphor to describe the troubles British people faced in Britain, and her personal detachment from her love for Nature. Molly, during the war, describes how her sister threw her doll into a Goose-bury Bush which had many thorns, because it was German made, but I believe she meant more by this. I believe Molly uses such an image to show how her life has been thrown into the ‘thorns’ of war

Molly also uses frequent descriptions and imagery surrounding illness. Her mother suffered badly from poor health, and Molly herself nearly died from pneumonia, but once she had recovered, she became a nurse in 1926. Because of her mother’s death, Molly felt that her home was full of dread and thus she moved out; These drastic changes in her life marked the end of her childhood memories as she became part of the working world. Having dealt with her mother’s illness all her youthful life, she then became a nurse to help others, so that they did not need to suffer as she did. She explains her ‘great satisfaction’ with her work, and thus provided a prosperous feeling towards her own life once again.


Keen, Molly, “Childhood Memories 1903-1921”, Brunel University, 1987

Hannah, Emma, “An Unhealed Wound: Britain and the First World War”, The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain, 2009, pp 7-31

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