Percy Vere (H.V.Smith) (b.1913): Life and Labour

The firm I was working for closed down, therefore I was out of work for the first 12 weeks of married life. (Vere, 5)

For Percy, labour was an incredibly large part of his life. From childhood, he began helping his family by selling plants with his sister. Also making time for a Saturday job at a local bakery whilst still at school.(See my previous post for more details). I find similarities between him and Thomas Waddicor. Both memoirs focus on their working situations, and both were encouraged to work from a young age, making time for work around their education. However, whilst Thomas worked his way up the class system buying luxury items, Percy remained a part of the working class throughout his life.

As David Vincent discusses in ‘Bread, Knoweldge and Freedom’, for many working class men , the labour they undertook immersed their lives, thus the main focus on Percy’s writings. ‘As a generation, the less literate the writer, and the less he was included in specific activities of self-improvement or political activity, the greater his preoccupation with the details of his life as worker’ (Vincent, 62)

At the age of 14, he left school to pursue a life of labour. He began work in the building trade, learning bricklaying, pipe laying and glazed tiling; this also included being a ‘tea boy’ and ‘beer fetcher’. “I also had to go by an old carrier bike down to the pub to get bottle of beer for the men.” (Vere, 3) Not long after, as he was the only labourer that had a driving licence, he began driving a T Ford Tipper Lorry. The vehicle was difficult to manoeuvre, however he was proud of the fact that he was the only man who could drive.

Croydon Corporation Tramways Map and Guide 1924 – the company Percy worked for

After his marriage in 1936, he was out of work for 12 weeks, something that obviously displeased him. However, he began driving a dustcart for Croydon Corporation, after a few months of unemployment; something that he said was ‘Not very good for my ego.’ (Vere, 5) A suggestion that he thought it was unfulfilling work. When war was declared in 1939 he began all night work at the Croydon salvage destructor. His memories of this were very clear, he goes into intricate details about how the machines work, highlighting his interests in machine. His son was born during this time in 1940 and he carried on with this work until his call for the army.

 

When he went for his medical examination, the doctor saw his appendix scar and took is as a ‘rupture’. ‘He said, “Ruptured eh? I answered ‘No sir. It is an appendix scar.’ He said ‘It is a rupture I say.’ (Vere, 7) He put in in Percy’s pay book that he was excused of all P.T. Afterwards he received a letter to report to Bulford Camp as a heavy goods driver. He does not define exactly how long he worked for the army, but his experiences and memories of the war takes up a great amount of his memoir. So much so, that I will dedicate a future post focusing solely on the war and his memories of it.

A military postcard of Bulford Camp, where Percy reported to for his army training

 

When he did return to Croydon, which was in ruins from bomb damage, he realised that he would need to find a way to provide for his family again. He started work with his eldest brother and his partner on war damage work, but the business soon went bust. He then got a bricklaying job with a London firm. Whilst bricklaying for a school, he noticed two men laying the floor assembly hall of a school. ‘Talking to one of the men, I suggested I would like to have a go at that! He said, see the boss. He will be here today. Anyway, I saw him, gave in my notice and got another job (just like that).’(Vere,8) He did not realise that this would mean more living away from home, as he had to travel all over England for different projects. ‘Still, never mind, it was more money and that’s what I go to work for and I love a challenge’ (Vere, 8)

He began to do this job independently until he had a fall and badly damaged his spine. He was plastered from his armpits to his knees as he had damaged several discs in his spine. After laying flat in bed for 9 months and after being told he would never walk again, he got a job as a maintenance carpenter. Then moved onto to a press operator, as it was a sitting down job, which was far more suitable for him. Ford Motor Co. took over this company and he stayed with them for 15 years, getting promotions every 2 years, he was content, for a while.

Ford Motor company advertisement 1965. Percy enjoyed the company perks that allowed him to purchase cars with them.

 

 

In June 1967, Percy and his wife decide to give up their jobs to buy a country general store. After numerous strokes and health issues, Percy was unable to run the store as he spent long periods in hospital. ‘I was once again rushed off to hospital leaving my wife once more on her own again, which was a formidable task. It is hadn’t been for her I’m sure we would have gone broke..’ (Vere, 23) They sold their store and after a few different jobs, they finally both retired in Surrey. Percy decided to take up another challenge, the art of growing bonsai trees.

Percy’s memoir highlights just what a strong and ambitious character he was, regardless of his class. His pseudonym Percy Vere, is such a fitting one, because persevere is exactly what he did.

‘Hard work and perseverance paid off in the end and it was worth it.’ (Vere, 20)

 

Works cited:

Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783

Vincent, D (1981). Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-century Working Class Autobiography. London: Taylor and Francis. p.62.

  • Full details of Writing Lives researcher, name of post, name of Author Blog, URL and date accessed when another Author Blog is cited

Natasha Ahmed, Thomas Waddicor (b.1906) Life and Labour. Thomas Waddicor.http://www.writinglives.org/life-and-labour/thomas-waddicor-b-1906-life-and-labour. Last accessed: 16th March 2017

Images:

Croydon Salvage Destructor: The saleroom https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/london-transport-auctions/catalogue-id-srlon10000/lot-329914f6-b176-4e31-95e8-a3f700d0d326 Last accessed: 15th March 2017

Bulford Camp: And all so far from Home. Military Postcards http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~westaust/Postcards/Military/Military.htm. Last accessed 15th March 2017

Ford advert: Adbranch http://www.adbranch.com/ford-magazine-ads-from-1960s-55-pics/ford_600_horses_and_a_wild_little_pony_1965/ Lats accessed: 15th March 2017

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