Mr E. Robinson’s autobiography ‘I Remember’ depicts an optimistic ideology in a pessimistic setting, as he perseveres to make something of his life and have the financial stability to help support his family. He goes above and beyond the expectations set on his shoulders from this childhood years, becoming a figure of authority and responsibility within the Post Office and gaining recognition for his services of courage and devotion to duty.
The memoir is a handwritten piece, consisting of approximately 20,000 words and was written in the decade between 1960 and 1970. Robinson’s work was later published in 9 editions of The Post, a journal for the Union of Communication Workers under the name ‘Autobiography of a Nobody’, running from June 1980 to February 1981.
Robinson was born the 27th June 1894 in Camberwell, South East London, as the first of four children for his parents. His father was a cab driver; however his work slowly dried up and left his family struggling on the cusp of poverty. Many poverty stricken families at the turn of the 20th Century were forced to live with severe case of undernourishment and illness, due to the inability to pay for domestic goods. Robinson’s childhood was very unsettled as he was forced to attended several different schools due to his father journeying to find work around South London.
He left education at the first chance possible, undertaking odd jobs as errand and messenger boys around South London. Robinson tells of the harsh conditioning of mass unemployment during the era, reflecting on the situation his father was left in due to the economic scale and state of social affairs. By describing the reality of poverty, Robinson highlights how life during the turn on the century was tough and that difficult living conditions forced teenage boys into work, rather than education.
It was at the Post Office where Robinson found his calling in life, serving for a total of 46 years before his retirement in 1954. He undertook numerous roles with the company, ending up as an Inspector of Postmen. He was rewarded for his career within the Post Office, gaining and Imperial Service Medal for his time. During his employment, Robinson also stood as a representative for the Tooting Post Office Union, defending the rights of his fellow employees, along with the role as honorary secretary of the Postman’s Federation.
Robinson also speaks of his time in the Army during the First World War, serving for the Post Office Rifles battalion. He describes the harsh realisation of battle, and the effects of leaving his home and family to protect his land and country. However his stint in the forces was cut short due to an injury he picked up due to an explosion which led to him being signed off, but he went to serve in the Home Guard through World War II. Robinson also took an interest in politics and was a firm supporter of the Labour Party. He originally joined the Mitcham District party on 1918, but went to become a councillor for the North Ward of Deal between 1943 and 1946.
In terms of his family, Robinson was twice married in 1917 and 1935, with three children from his first marriage, one of whom died at birth. His youth was spent in and around South East London, however he moved to Kent and later onto Sussex in his later years.
Through looking at the social and cultural constraints in the late 19th and early 20th century, the difficult conditions in the latter stages of the Victorian era and into the Edwardian period can be seen. With the changes being made economically, industrially and in the education system, the idea of poverty was becoming a dominant issue for many throughout this era. Unemployment at the turn of the 20th Century was a prominent theme, reoccurring through many areas and districts which were seen as having working class background.
Robinson’s writing style creates a very open account of his life, with his attention to the minor details a major part in the autobiography. By describing the finer details, he shows the reader how life was during the early 1900’s and changed occurred socially, culturally and economically during and after World War I and II. Robinson can also be seen as being very reflective on his experiences, telling of how these happenings structured life not only for him but for his family, for example gaining his first job within the Post Office and being relieved of his armed forces duties.
ROBINSON, E., ‘I Remember’, MS, pp.75 (c.20,000 words). Extract published as ‘Autobiography of a Nobody’, The Post (Journal of the Union of Communication Workers), Vol.83, No.8, June 1980 – VoI.84, No.2, Feb 1981 (9 articles). BruneI University Library.