He wanted me to stay in the army. Had I not been happily married with a son, I think I might have done. I’ll soon get you three stripes. No thanks I said. I had other plans (Vere, 16)
Home and family are not significant topics in Percy’s memoir; however, that does not mean that they were not important aspects of his life. Percy’s autobiography is titled ‘The Autobiography of a Working Man’, so naturally it focuses more on the labour he experienced throughout his life and not his emotional relationships. That said, we could distinguish some important aspects of home and family life from what details he did provide.
He depicts the small jobs that he undertook during his childhood, from selling plants with his sister to helping out at the local bakery on Saturdays. From what we can gather from his adult life, he was the breadwinner of the family and neither his wife nor son worked. This coincides with campaigns for men to earn a ‘bread winner’s’ wage, so they could support their wives and families at home. Percy’s wife only begins to work later in their lives and becomes the breadwinner when he becomes ill and can no longer run the shop that they own together.
During his own childhood, his father seems to be a big part of his life. Descriptions of going to work with his father and fond memories of travelling to the Epsom Derby in his father’s wagonette. It suggests that his father was a bigger influence in his nurturing than he was in his own son’s life. Due to the declaration of World War 2, he was called to join the army and saw very little of his family. When he returned from the war he stated ‘Of course, my son hardly knew me as I was never home long enough to play with him.’ (Vere, 20) Percy’s memoir focuses more on his family life in childhood than in adulthood and this may be because he missed so much of his son’s childhood.
During the war, he finds family within the army. He mentions two friends by name, Tom and George. He depicts nostalgic memories of them and the camaraderie they shared. The most notable fable is when Percy and his friend George receive an invitation to share lunch with a Danish family.
The dear old lady was proudly dishing up the stew, and I asked her if it was rabbit, putting my fingers up like ears. No, she said seriously, “Meow”. No lunch for us that day. (Vere, 16)
Simply by naming his friends, we are aware of the importance of these friendships. The hardships experienced by men in the army and the obvious loneliness from being apart from their family, brought these men close together, creating family like bonds. Although Percy omits details about his family life, there may be many reasons for this and as David Vincent discusses in , he may not have thought it was important aspect in his historical writings or that his readership would be interested.
…what these writers had to say about each facet of their family experience was controlled by how they conceived its relationship to the overall structure of the life history they were attempting to communicate. In this respect most of the autobiographers simply thought that the details of their emotional lives were not a matter of interest to their readership or, for that matter to future historians, for whom many were consciously writing.(Vincent, 229)
Finally, as mentioned in previous blogs, Percy’s final words in his autobiography praise his wife and all that she has done for him. Obviously a personal dedication to the woman he loves, I also feel that it praises a generation of women who had to step up and care for the family whilst the male members of families went to war.
Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783
Vincent, David. Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class, Social History, Vol.5, No2 (May,1980) p229-239
Family Dinner 1938: BBC News. . Last accessed: 8th March 2017
Croydon Bus Shelter WW2: Addiscombe Heritage Pages. Last accessed: 8th March 2017
Croydon Minister: Wikipedia. . Last accessed: 8th March 2017