Regenia Gagnier argues that ‘working-class autobiographies… have been lacking in self-revelation’ (336). This is the opposite of Jim Ingram’s memoir as he slowly reveals the emotions he experienced during his childhood experiences of World War 1 and the effects the war had on his family and himself. The memoir ‘A Wartime Childhood’ gives us a first-hand point of view on interesting historical themes such as class and life on the home front during the war making it informative as well as unique.
At the beginning of the memoir Ingram seems more like an observer of the events around him but, the more he writes the more his personality and emotions shine through. He eventually allows his reader the novelty of knowing the effect the events he is observing have had on him. We are let in on the struggles he faced as a child as he expresses his discontent at his father being away fighting in the war because it caused a spiral of other hardships. The absence of a male breadwinner meant his mother had to go to work in a grocers shop leaving him to fend for himself: ‘it did not seem to be anybody’s job to see that a small boy was fed’ (7).
Ingram has an interesting writing perspective as he seems to transform back into the person he was at the time he is writing about which makes his memoir all the more interesting to read. The reason for this could be that he wants to give his child self something back by letting the world know the injustices he suffered, he wants to let people know how the war destroyed his family. We see his childhood confusion at society during the war, for example he tells us about the time his mother was given a rare jar of jam: ‘A jar of jam could also cause trouble, I discovered’ (8) that eventually caused a family argument. The argument had detrimental consequences for him and his mother as he explains ‘There was such a row that we were told to get out and find somewhere else to live’ (8).
Due to a fall his mother had while she was pregnant, Ingram suffers with leg problems. The memoir shows how this disability shapes the way he develops as a person and we learn the way he feels about his disability: ‘I do not think I even felt jealous of those children who had ‘good’ legs and who could walk and jump without difficulty’ (7). It was moving to learn that his disability does not have a negative effect on his view of other people in the world and it does not dominate his writing. He mentions it in brief sections of his memoir but only to express that he does not let it prevent him in his endeavours in life.
Ingram becomes an inspiring writer the more you read of his memoir. We see that he is able to struggle past a number of unfortunate events in his life and still have aspirations to travel and better himself by eventually becoming a headmaster. After all it was only ‘A Wartime Childhood’ and his adulthood was a new story all together.
The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, ed. by John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989) 3 volumes, 2:430.
Ingram, Jim. ‘A Wartime Childhood’. Brunel University. 1987.
Gagnier, Regenia. Social Atoms: Working Class Autobiography, Subjectivity and Gender. Indiana University Press. 1987.
Image reference: Map of Manchester (Accessed: 2/11/2015)