Harold Gill (1919-2003): Purpose & Audience – Writing Lives

Harold Gill (1919-2003): Purpose & Audience

Harold Gill wrote an autobiography about his childhood and his life in the army which explains the brutal reality of being a Japanese prisoner of war. We estimate that his autobiography was written around 1984- 1985 as throughout the text, Gill uses phrases such as ’35 years later’ (Page 24, Section 2) and ‘If I’d have known what I knew 40 years ago…’. He indicates first that he was looking back forty years ago and then, subsequently, he explains that he was looking back thirty-five years ago allowing some uncertainty as to when he actually wrote his autobiography.

We estimate that Harold Gill was about the age of 65 when his autobiography was written as we know that he was born on the 17th May, 1919. He also gives us the date that he was sent to war and states that he was held prisoner for four years. He was around 26 when he was released in 1945-1946.

Gill explains how his sister encouraged him to tell his story and write about his experiences because she felt that he had a story to tell. However, later in his autobiography he offers different reason. He had read other people’s accounts of the war and their experience of being a P.O.W. Gill explains that he did not believe that these accounts told of all the cruelties of the war but instead ‘passed lightly over many of the brutalities’ of the situation. Nevertheless, Gill, who from childhood had a happy disposition, also includes humorous detail alongside his graphic account of his imprisonment.

Although Gill does not specify an audience we believe that his intended audience was the general public in order to tell about the brutalities that he claims that other authors did not mention in their autobiographies. His intention is to inform the general public of his memories of being a prisoner of war and of those experiences that he witnessed and experienced first-hand.

Gill explains that he had a pleasant childhood and how he was afraid of going to war as it was something new and unfamiliar to him. However, when he had finally adjusted to the idea of going to war he then explains how he became a prisoner of war, which was a shock to him as he had prepared to go to war fighting rather than being held captive. Once again he was unprepared and forced to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances and adjust to and find a way and not lose all hope. He explains how his religion was important to him as he believes that it was his faith that kept him alive.

There does not appear to be anything deliberately excluded from Harold Gill’s memoir, even though there is a gap from his recollection about his time at home before the war. Gill tells of his experiences of school; however the next part that he talks about is going to war. He presents his childhood as an average childhood and this serves to underline the brutalities that he witnessed when he was a prisoner of war.

Written by Joanne Gibson and Alexandra Meadwell



Gill, Harold, Untitled, TS, pp.66 (c. 31,000 words). Brunel University Library, July 1987.


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