In Charles L. Hansford’s autobiography, “Memoir of a Bricklayer”, war is not a main theme as the writer does not participate in WW1, and is on the homefront during WW2. However, as he did live to experience both, he does reminisce about what he witnessed. During World War 1, Hansford had recently moved along with his sister and mother to stay with his stepfather, Tom. Frequently required to travel for his job, Charles’ mother often went with Tom to the towns he was working at, taking the children with her. “…we would stay at Tom’s various lodgings. I shall always remember Mitcham in 1915, because with the Great War in full swing, I could watch searchlights sweeping the night sky over London. While we were there a Zeppelin was brought down nearby, so we wallowed in tabloid accounts of our airman manoeuvring his frail plane to bomb this vast dirigible from above.” (Hansford, P. 7) Because Charles was at quite a young age during WW1, it is clear that he found it more exciting than dangerous. A zepplin was a silent airship who’s arrival was without warning. With no shelters, people were forced to hide in cellars and under tables. In a total of 52 Zeppelin raids on Britain during WW1, the lives of more than 500 people were taken. (History on the Net, 2000)
‘The Silent Killer’, A WW1 Zeppelin
Charles does not explain the ways in which war impacted on his life in terms of grievance – he does not seem to endure any losses, or if he does, this silence could indicate he felt it too personal and too painful to write about. However, he does explain how the First World War affected his working life: “It proved harder to obtain employment than I expected. Immediately following the Great War, everything had seemed at first to go well. The boost given to the economy by the war carried over into the peace, being reinforced during 1919 and 1920 by a speculative boom.” (Hansford, P. 40) The positive economy soon took a turn for the worst however, another suffering that struck the working classes. Many worked for very little money and as a consequence they turned to take action through striking. Working women were also forced to give up their jobs and hand them back over to the returning soldiers, and by 1921, unemployment in Britain had reached its highest point by 11.3% since the records had begun (The National Archives, 2013). Hansford recollects his experience of this: “Winter months of 1920 brought the first indications of an imminent industrial depression; the post-war upswing proved to be a mere temporary stabilisation; unemployment levels began to creep upwards.” As money begins to grow tighter for Hansford, he resorts to making the difficult decision of selling his “beloved black boxing gloves” for very little money. Pressure had mounted to find work, and the beginning of the 1920’s was a difficult period for the working-classes.
At the end of the first world war people hoped for a new age of peace and reconciliation. These hopes were soon shattered. Worldwide economic depression brings mass unemployment and poverty. World peace hangs by a thread. (IWM North, 2013)
The description of World War Two by the writer, however, is much more detailed: I speculate this is because he would have remembered a lot more about it being much older, and volunteered for the role of an infantry which he remarks, “some blighter had to do it!” (Hansford, p.120) He describes working in the evenings for the Auxiliary Fire Service where his practical skills of construction would give him more responsibility than he’d anticipated, “my fire chief, who knew nothing about structures, often ran big risks with burning buildings, where as I could see the danger of roof collapse etc.” (Hansford, p.20) Hnasford continues to tell his reader that he built an underground air raid shelter at home, equipped with an emergency exit. An inspector from the council viewed the dug-out and was highly impressed with the work, telling Charles that it was a lot deeper and protective than many of the other shelters that he’d seen in the neighbourhood (Hansford, 120). The knowledge that allowed Charles to be of help in the Auxiliary Fire Service, as well as being able to build an air raid shelter, I imagine would have added to the pride that Hansford felt of knowing his trade and being able to construct efficiently and to a great level of skill. From these experiences of involving himself with good use towards the war, I feel that the writer would have felt honoured, consequently strengthening his values within society and his sense of identity.
Hansford, C. L. (1980) Memoir of a Bricklayer, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:745
historyonthenet.com, (2000) World War One: Zeppelin Raids [online] 2012. Available at: http://www.historyonthenet.com/WW1/zeppelin_raids.htm [Accessed 10th November, 2013]
The National Archives, (2013) Britain after the war [online] Available at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/aftermath/brit_after_war.htm [Accessed 10th November, 2013]
Quote (2013) IMW North [Poster Campaign on behalf of IMW North] [Accessed 11th November, 2013]