Harry Dorrell (B. 1903): Life & Labour

‘I would not give up and risk my family’s security. It was unthinkable.’ (137)

A tobacco factory in Manchester, likely to have been similar to the ones in which Harry worked.  

Labour plays a huge role in forming identity and class roles within society, especially at the time of our memoirs. The division of labour reflects the structure of society, with the bourgeoisie owning the factories and businesses, and the working classes working within them. Although this structure acted as a reinforcement of class structures it also gave rise to class consciousness, and a bond between working class labourers via their shared interests. This solidarity between members of the working class is what contributed to the formation of unions and working class political organisations. We can see this solidarity in Harry’s memoir by the way Harry was given a path into new jobs by people who he or his father knew. For example he went to Cheltenham for his ‘first skilled job’ (44) after being recommended by his work friend Alf Bowen as a ‘skilled tobacco cutter and dryer’ (43). Despite him not yet being fully trained, ‘Alf fixed it’ (43). Harry was also able to stay with Jimmy Holland, who ran the factory, because he was an old friend of his father.

The sense of community within the work place was sometimes difficult for Harry because he was usually the youngest member and still had a ‘boyish shyness’ (44) about him. He seemed to look for father figures in the work place such as Alf who noticed Harry’s ‘lack of social grace’ (44) and helped him to fit in. When Harry socialised with his workmates he was embarrassed at the thought of them noticing him drinking lemonade, Alf explained to him that the tradition of buying a round was ‘a necessity’ (44), but helped him by ordering the drinks on his behalf, because he knew he did not drink and ‘had never been in a pub’ (44) in his life.

For Harry working in the tobacco industry was an obvious path because it was the ‘family trade for men’ (9). It was seen as strange that Alfie did not join this tradition but rather moved away ‘for work on a farm in Wales’ (9), a break that was ‘almost unthinkable for an east end London boy’ (9). Harry took pride in telling his friends about his brother because it was ‘so daringly adventurous’ (9).

During the early years of his depression he was encouraged to write ‘industrial relations case studies’ (152) about his experience. After these were published he was offered a part time job in in a Business Studies Department. This in turn encouraged Harry to get more involved in teaching. He taught one week courses about issues within trade unions. Although there was not much pay in this the subject was something that was of great interest to Harry. He gained a sense of satisfaction from this, because of how he was able to encourage people and help them with ‘personal strengthening’ (154). One middle aged student called Bill had a particularly effect in this way. He said to Harry that he was going to give up because he could not write essays and did not have the courage to stay. Harry told him ‘you have great courage to tell me all this. Don’t give up’ (154) and went on to write out an essay structure and introduction to help him. This gave Bill the courage to stay. At the end of the course Bill took Harry’s hand and said ‘Thank you.’ (154), Harry was ‘touched; (155) by this and felt he had learnt from this experience.

Harry took a lot of pride in working and it was important to him that he was able to provide for his family, the thought of not being able to provide was unbearable to him. Harry was working at BEA when his depression and temper was worsening every day. Joan begged him to leave his job, saying that she would get a job and they would manage. But Harry said ‘I would not. I would not give up and risk my family’s security. It was unthinkable.’ (137). He did what he thought was right by trying to support his family, although his illness was breaking them apart.

One of many letters from employers, attached to the end of the memoir.
One of many letters from employers, attached to the end of the memoir.

Dorrell, Harry, ‘Falling Cadence: An autobiography of failure’, TS, pp.161 (c.97,000 words). Fragment published in the POEU Journal, Aug 1983. BruneI University Library. AWC- 2:0231


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