‘Born the son of a flour miller March 1913. I well remember my mother holding me up to the window to see a Zepplin go over the house but no action.’ (Vere, 1)
H.V. Smith writes a detailed autobiography, under the pseudonym Percy Vere, titled ‘The Autobiography of a Working Man’. This autobiography resides in the Burnett archives of Brunel University, printed on paper by a type writer with corrections made in biro. Andrea Arnold once wrote ‘I grew up in a working-class family, so I guess you could say I write from what I know.’ (Winters, 2007) Percy also wrote about what he knew, as his entirely fitting title to his short autobiography mostly details the labour he undertook throughout his life and his time working as a heavy goods driver during the war.
Growing up in Croydon, Percy begins by recalling some childhood memories of selling plants to the ‘posh’ houses with his sister and his first Saturday job working for a baker. He goes on to tell us about his life after schooling and the numerous jobs that he had done. He recalls memories of his first motor bike and car, proudly recalling ‘I was the only one on the site who could drive which was quite an achievement in those days anyway.’ (Vere, 4) What is apparent is that his life is one that is measured through his own capacity to work and his in ability to do so. Vere’s adult life is sketched
through work-related milestones; following his marriage in 1936, he recalls being without work for the first 12 weeks of married life and subsequently lists a series of manual jobs and the industrial accidents and illnesses which interrupt them.
When the war was declared in 1939 and Percy went to his medical examination to join the army, he was told he could not fight. He was told to report to Buldford Camp as a Heavy Goods driver in the RASC and he undertook his army training there. He details his travels up and down Britain and around Europe, describing his experiences and memories. From dining on cat with a Danish family, to the many nights of playing the piano in the pub with his army friends, he offers personal insights into the experiences and memories of the war. He details little about his family, never actually naming his wife or son, they do not play a huge role in his memoir as it mostly depicts his working life.
It is nearing the end of his memoir that he begins to speak about his wife, detailing how supportive she has been during his multiple illnesses in the later years of his life. A broken back, numerous strokes and angina, to name just a few of these illnesses. However, with the support of his wife and a determined attitude he recovers from all of these things, continuing to work many different jobs despite his disabilities. Reflecting on his life in retrospect, Percy offers wisdom to his readers, ‘Looking back I now think it is best to take a chance when they come along, which is not very often, I know.’ (Vere, 21) Retiring, he takes up another, unusual challenge: the art of growing Bonsai trees. He ends his autobiography by dedicating his achievements to wife.
‘But I could never have done it without my wife’s constant help I am sure.’ (Vere, 25)
Winters, L. (2007). Director Leaps From Shorts to Longing. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/01/movies/01wint.html. Last accessed 28th Jan 2017.
Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783
Zepplin: Military History http://www.military-history.org/articles/german-zeppelins-of-wwi.htm. Last accessed 3rd February 2017
East Croydon Station: South London Guide http://www.southlondonguide.co.uk/croydon/history.htm Last accessed 3rd February 2017