Before Harold Gill was conscripted to fight in the Second World War, he explained that the majority of his time was spent between school and church. Gill immediately informs us that he is of the Catholic faith and that when he was younger he was an altar boy at church, this therefore gives us a little understanding as to what he believes in. Religion was very important to Gill as when he was a prisoner of war, his faith is one of the main things that helped him to maintain a positive outlook on life at a time when everything looked bleak. By keeping hold of such faith he is able to believe that things will get better and that he will one day be reunited with his family once again.
However, as Gill did become a prisoner of War he was unable to spend his free time (what little there was of it) doing something fun and worthwhile. As we can imagine, even if there was an opportunity to participate in an activity, the chances are that he would be too tired from all the physical labour to actually enjoy it. Therefore, it is not unexpected that Gill would turn to his love of poetry whenever he has the opportunity to do so. Here is just one of the poems that Harold Gill wrote whilst being a P.O.W and it gives us some insight as to how he felt about being away from home and his own culture.
“Time, remorseless time,
Trampling on with claw-like feet,
Scratching the surface of the earth,
And all upon it.
To inherit some timeless heaven,
Some unearned spiritual wealth
As humanity’s right, or accidental destiny
Divinity, or Deity’s request?
Can limited mind probe,
And probing, in limitless queries
Solidify a liquid eternity
And answer the question why
Scan the stars – hung on the sky,
Itself a void.
Search the earth – built without foundations
And wonder –
Who? When? For what and why?”
(Page 21, Section 2)
Within this poem Gill questions why things happen and for what purpose. He suggests that without being able to participate in activities and habits from his own culture, then what is the point and meaning of time? He expresses that his time away from home is more of a test of endurance until it is time for it all to end, either his life or the war.
It is important to note however, that he strongly remains faithful to his religious beliefs, despite arduous times, he makes jokes and tries to laugh whenever an opportunity represents itself. This is how he spends his leisure time, by the only choice he has when all other choices are taken away from him.
Throughout his autobiography, Gill tells us stories from his time being a P.O.W, these stories are of his friends and of the jokes they shared whilst at camp, before they died. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the friends that Gill makes throughout his time at war also help to shape his personal identity just as much and the culture and the belief system in which he grew up in.
Written by Alexandra Meadwell and Joanne Gibson.
Gill, Harold, Untitled, TS, pp.66 (c. 31,000 words). Brunel University Library, July 1987.