Harold Gill (1919-2003): Biographical Entry

Born 17 May 1919. Father a bricklayer. 4th of 7 children of father’s second marriage. Received formal education from age 4. No mention of marriage. Spent childhood in the village of Wesham. Living in Southport in 1984. 

No details of employments before being called up for army service in 1939; convalesced for 2 years after his release from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, suffering from poor hearing and defective eyesight. 

Poet, examples of his writing being included in the text.

 An extremely interesting and well-written narrative contrasting the amusing times of his happy childhood with chilling descriptions of the harsh physical and psychological realities of life as a Japanese prisoner-of-war. Harrowing and painful memories record the horror of being forced to work on the Burma railway (‘the Railway of Death’), disease, torture, malnutrition, narrow escapes from death, and the related emotional stress. The early passages tell of the hardships inflicted on large families when the breadwinner was faced with seasonal unemployment and the prospect of doctor’s bills but nevertheless retaining a sense of humour with comments on poor relief (‘t’Lloyd George’), diet, dress, religious bigotry, schooling and punishments. The narrative jumps from schooldays to conscription in 1939 and ends with his freedom from wartime imprisonment.

‘Harold Gill’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:316.

Gill, Harold. ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, 2:316

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