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Joe Ayre – The (SOCIALIST). Vol No. 2:29
“This autobiography will cover seven decades of the life of a working man, of his struggle to survive, his political life and his work in order to live.”(3)
Joe Ayre, an ordinary working class man who was born in 1910 did not exaggerate or over-dramatize his experiences but rather emphasised the ordinariness of his life. His memoir follows an unstable journey from his life as “an urchin living in the gutters of Liverpool”(42) during the war, to his newly transformed life in Canada. This is not to say that Joe’s quality of life in Canada was a vast improvement to that of which he had experienced in Liverpool, but his determination to help others as he grew older meant that with age, he learnt to appreciate what little he had.
Joe Ayre’s loving family…
One aspect that Joe was fortunate to have throughout his life was a close family bond, especially with his brother Bill and his sister Edie. He praises them both in his memoir. Edie is particularly praised as she was faced with the responsibility of taking up the ‘motherly’ role at just fourteen years of age after the death of their mother. Joe’s warm and loving nature meant that he never forgot how supportive and caring Edie had been towards him when he was a child. He insists on providing financially for his sister and her new family when he discovers that they are “living on just $2.50 a week”(75) in Canada many years later.
As a child, Joe Ayre lived a typical working class life, “walking to school in only bare feet as nearly all working class kids did”(8)with his brother Bill. The typicality of his life is portrayed throughout his memoir and with the main focus surrounding his childhood; he talks about this in relation to his family, his education and his culture. One issue which Joe emphasises in his autobiography is how his working class background meant that his education was restricted, by “studying the scripture only.“(8)
His earliest recollection…
Joe talks about a memorable date for him which was the 19th December 1918. This is Joe’s earliest recollection as it was his mother’s death; he talks about this vivid memory and how he can still remember how she looked “as she lay in her coffin.”(4) He praises his mother for her restraint and self control during the First World War. Her restraint managed to hold his family together whilst his father was absent and fighting in the army. This admiration towards his mother and her nurturing role is referred to numerous times in his memoir. He feels that she should not be blamed for “turning to drink very heavily(4)” after his loving brother Tom’s death in the War, but his blame for this is placed on the Capitalist system.
Politics: “The war to end all wars’ was just another con-game that the Capitalists of Great Britain played with the working class as the pawns.”(4)
Politics is something that dominates Joe’s life. His solid Socialist beliefs allowed him to name his autobiography, referring to himself in the title of his memoir as, ‘The Socialist.’ It was not until the Economic Depression in the 1930’s which according to Joe “sparked the beginning of my Political thinking.”(72) With having such a powerful approach to Politics meant that he blamed the Capitalist system for almost everything. He mainly blames Capitalists for the breakdown of his working class family. The breakdown of his family was caused by the death of his mother and his dear brother Tom which left the Ayre household collapsing in a state of devastation and grief.
Similar to his mother, his father turned heavily to drink. Despite losing contact with his father later on in his life because of his hatred towards his new ‘stepmother of Satan’(18), Joe and his brother Bill still share a bond that is strengthened, particularly through their absence and longing.
His optimism and desire to flee from his poor family background and his miserable quality of life at the age of twelve is something that can only be admired. Joe was first given a glimpse of what a better quality of life would be like when he developed bronchitis as a child and was referred to a convalescence home at Alder Hey, “on the outskirts of Liverpool.”(13) He describes this experience as “heaven”(13) and talks about how nice it was to have a warm bed and clean bed sheets. Since his mother’s death, this was something that Joe was not familiar with. It was from this experience which encouraged Joe and made him determined to change his life for the better.
Migrating to Canada with his brother Bill to escape his father’s abusive drinking habits was the best thing that Joe Ayre had ever done. Whilst living in Canada, Joe worked on several farms which were run by various families. This was an unfamiliar experience for him as he had not experienced this united family bond since the death of his mother. So instantly, with his nostalgic childhood memories, he was able to adapt to his new adventure with a sense of reassurance and optimism. Everything about his life at this point was changing for the better. For the first time, he was able to have his own bedroom, including “a feather bed and feather pillows”(33) and “the food was fabulous.”(34) This was a luxurious lifestyle for Joe; even the not so glamorous side of his new life such as milking the cows was something that Joe enjoyed doing.
Joe Ayre’s memoir provides a moving account of life during and after the First World War. From his childhood in Liverpool, to his independent life in both Canada and Chicago. Joe is a well-travelled and honest writer who is not afraid to talk about events which could portray him and the rest of the working class in a negative way. He instead challenges capitalist constitutions and highlights how it is because of their control which makes the working class suffer. He talks about how the police going on strike in England was the first time that he had “ever seen the poor really enjoying themselves.”(17)
Joe Ayre’s autobiography provides a series of events and emotions. His journey across borders, his train rides across towns and experiencing boats which sail halfway across the world have shaped Joe in to an interesting writer whose life and efforts can only be admired.
John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds), The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989) 2:029
Joe Ayre ‘The Socialist’, MS, pp.178 (c.43,250 words), Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, no. 29, Brunel University Library.