Kay Garrett (b.1899): Home and Family Part Two

Hello folks!

Welcome back to writing lives and welcome to part two of Kay Garrett’s home and family blog posts. This post will focus on the second part of Kay’s autobiography which deals with her adult life. If you haven’t read part one you can find it here. In terms of home and family, the home Kay made for herself was just as eventful, if not more so, than her childhood growing up in Hammersmith, London.

As a single mother Kay finds her way back to London and back to her parent’s house during the great depression and World War Two, but not before trying to carve out a life for herself in Southern Rhodesia with her husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and young daughter.

Kay’s first marriage (the second of which she doesn’t talk about) was to a South African soldier in 1919 whose beginning was just as scandalous as it finished. Kay remembers that “my mother didn’t trust my husband and had made him promise to wait till I was 21 (three years). So I lied to the Registrar and on my first marriage certificate I’m two years older than my age” (7). Maybe this proves that a mother’s intuition is always right because Kay’s marriage broke down in 1930 “for various reasons, including constant drunkenness” (8). But before the breakdown of her marriage, there were happy times in a commune in Durban, South Africa and with her in-laws in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia. British people moving overseas was commonplace in the early 1900s what with the flow of people during the Great War and the British Empire, although in its twilight years, being a dominant presence in the world. In fact, historian Ellen Boucher states that “during the early 1900s, over 1,670,000 men, women and children left the country” (Boucher, 2014, 27).

Durban, south Africa in the 1920s
Durban, South Africa in the 1920s


The house in Durban is where Kay appears to be at her happiest in her memoir, “warm, colourful, beautiful trees and flowers” (8) surrounding a large house that they shared with other families. But later in 1919 Kay’s husband got a job as a book-keeper and compound manager of a small asbestos mine in Southern Rhodesia.

During this time Kay and her husband lived in two joined together huts made from extinct termite hills with thatched roofs called rondavels. It is at this point in the memoir that Kay writes one of the most amusing sections of her memoir in which she explains that “the floors and walls came to happy life” (8) when the rains came. She then goes on to describe how she coped living with no gas, electricity, fireplace or water, but relied on the help of two native boys. It is interesting to note that while in England, Kay is clearly working class even after she moves back to England. But in Southern Rhodesia she is part of the white elite, yet her living conditions were much worse than what they were in London in the early 1900s.

In 1927 Kay gives birth to her daughter and describes it as “a hellish experience” and “vowed never again” (8). Unlike other working class women’s memoirs, Kay does not talk at length about her child. In fact, her daughter is only mentioned three times in the entire memoir. This could be because she is aware that her audience may not find the raising of a young child interesting because there is plenty of other material on the matter. She did become a professional writer after all!

Three years later Kay left Africa for good and returned to live with her parents in London. If you’ve read part one of this post then you will know that Kay’s childhood was marred with stories of her parent’s drunken behaviour, but it appears that when moving back in with them, alcohol was a thing of the past due to both of her parents having serious health scares due to their excessive drinking.

Kay doesn’t give too much away about her home and family life later in life, but throughout the memoir what she does portray is a home life that was full of many cherished memories. The story of Kay Garrett’s family life may have been one littered with turmoil and termite hills, but it goes to show that no matter what life throws at you, a strong family unit it the key to a happy life.

If you want to know more about what Kay did in her down time then follow me on Twitter @Portia_Fahey to keep up to date with this blog series and other writing lives blogs.


Boucher, E. (2014). Empire’s Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.27.

2.305 Garrett, Kay, Untitled (c.9,000 words), pp.1-12. Brunel University Library.

Extract published in J. Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1982), pp.306-312. Brunel University Library and Ruskin College Library, Oxford.

Genome.ch.bbc.co.uk. (2016). WOMAN’S HOUR – BBC Radio 2 – 28 August 1968 – BBC Genome. [online] Available at: http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/91be2a9f070347219e719bb37f83a4a4 [Accessed 8 May 2016].


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