Molly Keen’s family lived through times that included many tragedies, many of which were outside of their control. For example, the sinking of the Titanic, which Molly shortly refers to, “This was the Titanic disaster of 1912” (p.6). However, her mentioning of this disaster is random and abrupt, and I believe it creates the idea that Molly was more focused on the death of her Mother, and the more intimate effects of it rather than talking about national disasters. Furthermore, Molly does not speak about the First World War in depth, as she will have been young during the war and thus maybe not in the forefront of her memories of her childhood. However, Molly’s family’s survival through the First World War articulates the strength of their connection. The spirit of the women is shown, as together they were able to remain brave, even though their brothers were fighting. Winifred in particular because she remained more domestic than Molly, and thus would help their ill mother, seemingly ignoring the domestic problems the war brought such as rationing, and the fear of losing family members who are fighting.
The closeness and strength of Molly’s family was certainly tested during her childhood. When her brothers went to war, Jack entering the Royal Flying Corps, and Percy joining the Essex Regiment in the Signals show how worried they all were. She stated, “How we hated that awful moment for goodbye not knowing if we would see them again” (p.27) which explains the hurt the family shared due to their temporary family separation. However, upon their arrival home Molly describes it as a “great day” (p.29), showing the relief. Also, Jack realised he shared his Fathers ability in sign writing, and thus worked with his Father, showing the family bonds to have only been strengthened by the experiences of the War.
However, the most detailed moment in the memoire, is that of the death of their beloved Mother. She describes the it as “a night I will never forget” (p.33), and how “the thing that we had all dreaded in our hearts had happened” (p.33), articulating the devastation. Also, due to ill health of the Mother throughout the memoire, the death unfortunately will not have come as a surprise to the family but growing up knowing what could happen could have driven Molly and her family away from each other through the fear of losing her. Throughout her childhood, Molly’s mother was the rock of the family, as she stated, “Everyone came to her with their problems and troubles, she always gave help and hospitality whenever possible” (p.2), and thus losing her will have been the most prominent moment in her childhood unfortunately.
Having to grow up, and almost waiting for the ill health to take its toll on the mother of the family could have torn them apart, due to their feeling of helplessness. Instead, the mother’s ill health brought the Keen family closer together and resulted in a happy family that would ignore the impending doom. They would go out and enjoy the love of their family’s companionship, with days out. One of the families “favourite places was Burnham Beeches” (p.6), which further shows the importance of family to Molly due to the descriptive memory of their days out.
The unfortunate death of her Mother, however, did fashion Molly’s path towards nursing. The job gave Molly a sense of purpose, which for many working-class women during these years was hard to come across, due to the lack of work for women. However, dursing became popular for women due to the effects of the First World War, but Molly’s added incentive deriving from her mother’s death allowed Molly to make her mother and her family proud, as well as have a very strong career path. Molly’s memoire ends on this positive note; the beginning of her career as a nurse, which I believe shows how Molly finally found closure surrounding her mother’s death. Her new career showed Molly’s ambitiousness, that she gained from her father, but it also showed the loving nature of her Mother through her desire to help people when they needed it; which further indicated how the Keen family culture, and loving manner in which they all lived, helped Molly’s identity adapt into a well-rounded woman, with pride in her work.
Image 1 – https://vad.redcross.org.uk/Volunteers-during-WW1
Keen, Molly, “Childhood Memories 1903-1921”, Brunel University, 1987