Hilda Ann Salusbury (1906-1993): War and Memory

Although Hilda does not go into great detail about life during the years of the war, it did have a great impact on her childhood which is something she does mention in her memoir. The tone that she uses to write about war mostly consists of anger at the changes it brought about to her family life. Changes which were to shape who she became in later years.

Hilda’s father was a marine engineer and draughtsman and often when the children and their father went to visit their Uncle, she would hear them ‘talk in low voices about the likelihood of a war.’ (19) she says that her Uncle Harry ‘thought it would be a flash in the pan, lasting three or four months.’ (20) but she gathered that her father ‘thought it would be more serious and lasting.’ (20) and clearly he was right. On these Sunday afternoon visits to Uncle Harry, Hilda recalls feeling ‘troubled and frightened by these rumblings of war’, (20) a scary prospect for such a young child.

As previously mentioned in my posts on Home and Family, the outbreak of the war meant that Hilda’s father had to work a lot. She says in her memoir that ‘the war was to make my uncle a wealthy man and nearly kill my father with overwork night and day on the shipyard.’ (20) and this, she says ‘was to mark the end of [her] happy sheltered life.’ (20) Whilst her father was out at work, her mother often held parties that many soldiers home from the war attended. She makes suggestions that her mother might have had an affair with one of them but tells the reader this from her point of view as a child. She saw things and heard conversations that didn’t make sense to her as a child, but reflecting back as an adult it becomes clear to her what was going on.

British troops going over the top of the trenches in World War I, Hilda reflects on hearing her family saying that her Uncle Billy ‘had gone over the top and they were all wiped out’. (23)

Hilda’s family was beginning to fall apart. After seeing her mother crying and kissing one of the soldiers late one night, she remembers creeping back to bed ‘wondering why everything had to be so sad, and why people still sang songs and laughed if they were, as [she] had heard Grannie say, “facing death tomorrow”‘. (23)

Sooner after this, Hilda’s uncle Billy (brother of her mother) was killed in the war, which had a great impact on both her mother and Grannie. She describes how her mother ‘was greatly subdued by the week’s events: the parties became less frequent. She was moody and fretful’ (25) and says that ‘Grannie too did not seem to recover from the loss of her youngest son.’ (26) The happy childhood that she had known before the outbreak of the war had come to an abrupt end. She observes that ‘Mummy was miserable, Grannie was crying, father more quiet than usual. All the joy had gone out of the house’ (26) These events then led to Hilda’s mother leaving and Hilda blamed the war for this.

Image result for world war 1 british shipyard
British Shipyard during World War I.

From then on her life changed. She could no longer enjoy the carefree childhood she had been so used to, and instead had to accept the responsibility of taking on her mother’s role in the home. It is clear from the memoir that the war years brought back bad memories for her and she felt a sense of resentment that it caused the break down of her family.

Salusbury, Hilda Ann. ‘Only My Dreams: An English Girlhood’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

Image References:

Feature image – British soldiers:


British troops going over the trenches:

British shipyard in WWI:

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