‘This is my first attempt at writing a book – no one may be interested, it may never appear in print, one thing is certain – no other person in the whole wide world could have written it.’
John Clifford Sawyer, an only child to a grocery manager and anonymous mother, was born in 1914 in the small town of Beeston, Nottinghamshire. Through his memoir, ‘One Man in his Time’, John provides a personal, detailed account of the harsh realities of World War II, including implausible narrow escapes to bomb attacks, in addition to the devastating discoveries of his numerous illnesses, including tuberculosis. Despite the constant threats he had to his life, John is passionate when recalling the experiences within his audacious, ever-changing love-life, joyous when divulging into his vivid social life and refreshingly comical throughout all his memoir.
John narrates his memoir through short, titled chapters. This layout is undoubtedly inspired by his passion for reading, as he does not hesitate to boast about his bookcase (made by himself, and poorly, he admits) that holds his Charles Dickens’s volumes (p.7).
There is an overall significant lack of detail regarding his relationships with family members. He briefly speaks about his parents, whose names are unknown, and the only piece of information he reveals concerning his family is how his father was a grocery store manager. He skims over his father’s death, without revealing the emotions that he felt.
One emotion he does express however is passion. John writes fondly and explicitly about his numerous love affairs, his first being Betty Brown, whom he states ‘gave birth to my interest in the opposite sex’ (pg.2), up until his last love affair with Nancy, his eventual wife. He speaks of Nancy poetically, especially when recalling the night he met her, as he confesses ‘from the moment she smiled her acceptance I was lost.’ (page 48)
It is fair to say that John had seen a lot of the world. From the ages 1-60, he had lived in Beeston (Nottinghamshire), Cambridgeshire (Ramsey), Nottingham, Glasgow, Prestatyn, London and then eventually retired to Bideford and Westword Ho in Devon. After living and working London, he visited Holland, Brussels and Austria, and describes how he was ‘extremely grateful’ (p.84) to have had and taken these numerous opportunities to go abroad purely for leisure.
John’s work life was extensive, working immediately after finishing his education as junior clerk in a local Solicitors’ office, then as a clerk at Prestatyn and then, in London, deciphering vital messages received from War Offices. John also had an exhilarating and continually changing social and community life. During his fifteen years in Ramsey alone, he joined the boy scouts, the church choir, and the soccer and cricket teams, and he would ensure that he went to a dance at least once a week. John also formed a small band that became a longstanding ‘enjoyable’ and ‘fairly lucrative’ hobby. He would perform at hotels, dances, tennis courts and even on a lorry ‘as we led the parade at a carnival’ (p.16). This hobby allowed him to make friends that he kept for life, and, for a few years, would share every Friday night with at Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, a famous tavern built into the rock of Nottingham Castle. Music and dance were life-long passions for John, as when he played in a unit dance band during his war service, he confesses that ‘it meant nothing to them, of course, but it certainly did for me’ (p.16).
John was aware of his working-class status, even in his early years, yet rarely commented explicitly on the class system in general. For example, the sole time he refers to the class system is in reference to the water and toilet systems. He explains how, when he was a child, there was no piped water, therefore water supply depended on the rain, and the toilet facilities consisted of large buckets, and reveals, with a bitter tone, ‘only the aristocracy had flush toilets’ (p.5). This separation and lack of interest in class suggests how he didn’t appear to feel aggrieved by his working-class status or see it as limiting.
John Sawyer pours his heart and humbleness into his memoir. He doesn’t just narrate and recall his life, he appreciates it and shows gratitude for simple necessities, such as his first house with his wife, Nancy, admitting that ‘we were fortunate in, at least, being able to close our own door so we made the best of it. We were far better placed than many’ (p.62).
John Sawyer, ‘One man in his time, or, the first sixty years; an autobiography’. 38,000 words. Born 1914, Beeston Nottingham.