Eleanor Hutchinson (B 1915): War and Memory – Writing Lives

Eleanor Hutchinson (B 1915): War and Memory

“I wasn’t afraid of the Germans” (Hutchinson 30)

Propaganda to promote the war effort

Eleanor Hutchinson was born in 1915 in the midst of the First World War. As a young baby throughout the war, Hutchinson’s recollection of the war itself is minimal if existent at all. It is the years following the end of the war in 1918 that Hutchinson is made aware of the devastation left behind.

Eleanor’s father was enlisted, like many, to fight for his country in the First World War. His return from the war should have been a point of jubilation however the serve lack of jobs on top of the enforced rationing throughout the war resulted in a pressing anxiety on how to get by. Hutchinson’s retrospective outrage towards the authorities and their ignorance is made clear through her reaction to her father’s return:

“How could the officials know, in their blinding arrogance, of the mindbending anxiety to which a man of his condition could be driven in the cramped conditions of a Victorian slum, knowing that his wife was slowly dying and his children likely to follow? And this after having been through a dreadful war to retain some illusive thing called Freedom. He must have wondered whose freedom he was defending” (Hutchinson 18).

Unemployment affected all ages

“Mass unemployment” according to John Stevenson and Chris Cook in The Slump: Britain in the Great Depression “more than anything else, gave the interwar period its image of the ‘long weekend” (Stevenson and Cook 91). The freedom Hutchinson’s father fought for was tainted by the mass unemployment that led to a sedentary society stuck in a ‘long weekend’ from work.

Hutchinson’s memoir also explores her child like memory of such events as air raids: “Take Cover’ and ‘All Clear’ were as familiar as the street cries. These latter I never understood but I could easily imitate the cries of war, especially the ‘All Clear’ which was more musical and ended in a high note” (Hutchinson 29). At her young age, she is not aware of the implications of these particular street cries. However her instinct tells her to favour the more musical cry, which ultimately signified their safety.

For many children throughout the war and the reconstruction years that followed, the fears of their parents were a point of confusion: “We looked down the street to see three airships quietly gliding over St Mary Magdalene’s Church” … “Looking up at my mother, I saw that there were tears in her eyes. What was so sad about airships?” (Hutchinson 29). Common fears of the war continued long after the end of the war. As a child Eleanor can sense her mother’s distress at the appearance of the airships. However her childish naivety leaves her unable to understand why is should cause such sadness.

First World War Airship

For Eleanor, her naivety is a common theme in regards to the war: “I wasn’t afraid of the German’s” (Hutchinson 30). In her naïve eyes, Eleanor had no reason to be afraid of the Germans. She had not ever seen a German, therefore to her knowledge she had no reason to be afraid. To Eleanor, the war itself was not the thing to be feared, it was the poverty and unemployment that emerged as a result of the war that affected her and was thus more important than the war.


‘Eleanor Hutchinson’, in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Brighton: Harvester, 1984, vol. 2, no. 429

Hutchinson, Eleanor, ‘The Bells of St Mary’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:429

Stevenson John, Cook Chris, ‘The Slump: Britain in the Great Depression’. Routledge, London. 2013.

Images Cited – as they appear on the page

– Accessed 15/12/2015

– Accessed 15/12/2015

– Accessed 15/12/2015

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