Mary Norreen Hart (b.1928): Politics, Protest & War.

‘Against the backdrop of the economic depression, socialism exerted a strong influence’ 

Mary does not write much about the political situation of Wales during the interwar years. Though it is suggested that ‘all literature is political, in the sense that it always influences the political consciousness of the reader’ (Rose, 1992, 48). With this, we can look at Mary’s memoir and decode her writing by looking at the economic and political situation at the time, and use her memoir to emphasise how a working-class family felt about these issues in the 20th century. 

POLITICS 

Image of Kier Hardie (the first labour MP).

Although she hardly writes about politics, it is suggested that it was a key concern within Mary’s family. Interestingly, she mentions more about her mother’s political campaigning than her father’s; ‘mother played her part in campaigning for the first Labour MP [..] she was there when the first trade unions were formed’ (5). This shows that her mother was very passionate about the labour party. Her mother was also unemployed, but she ‘was well thought of by the local community’ (8). This suggests that her mother was an avid and social member of the community, which is how she would have been educated about politics. However, ‘the strongest tradition within modern Welsh historiography has been labour history’ (Johnes, 2010, 1257). This makes it clear that her mother’s political views were the norm during this period in Wales.

In regards to her father’s politics, Mary mentions that ‘he had an intellectual mind and would debate politics keenly with the menfolk from our street’ (15). It is suggested that the ‘unemployed were socially isolated’ and so were excluded from political life, talk and education (McKibbin, 1990, 25). So it’s fascinating to see her father go against this. Mary mentions that he ‘loved listening to the radio and keeping abreast of current affairs’ (15). It is interesting to see how her father used the radio to learn.

WAR 

Mary writes at such a pivotal time for Britain, as she writes during the interwar years and the economic depression. The war was particularly relevant for Mary’s father. She writes; ‘with the outbreak of World War 1, Dada left to fight for his country serving in the Royal Army Service Corps Regiment’ (5). Although war is a sensitive subject, Mary sheds light on how it brought job opportunities. There is a sense of pride here when discussing her father. This interesting as, if you would have read my home and family blogs, she doesn’t write very positively about her father. Therefore, there’s a sense that the war gave many individuals a purpose, as well as pride in the family.

WWII love letter from soldier named ‘I Love You, Olevia’

Mary also mentions that ‘it was very romantic to see a bride marrying a soldier, but much sadness followed if he was killed in action’ (30). As Mary would have experienced this as a child, she would have seen the romantic elements of this. Though through reflection, she is able to see the harsh reality of the war and its impact on relationships. 

Therefore, the experience wasn’t all positive. Her father ‘eventually returned from the war, but he had been mentally scarred by the horror of what he had witnessed’ (6). I have looked at this in many of my blogs which shows that this would have impacted many aspects of the family’s life. So although it gave work, the long-term effect on individuals (and families) was negative.

If the effects of the war on Mary’s father is something you particularly find interesting, make sure to look at my ‘Home and Family [part 2]’ blog!

Proof read by Zoe and Shauna.

Bibliography

HART, Mary Norreen, ‘A Welsh Childhood: Memories of Aberfan 1928-1945 through the eyes of Mary Norreen Hart (nee Jones).’ (privately printed, 2011), pp.63. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel University Library. Special Collections, Vol.4. 

Johnes, Martin. For Class and Nation: Dominant Trends in the Historiography of Twentieth-Century Wales. Swansea University. History Compass. 8.11 (2010): 1257–1274

McKibbin, Ross. The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain 1880-1950. London: OUP Oxford, 1990.

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70.

Image cited

Keir Hardie’s “Sunshine of Socialism” speech – full text’LabourList11 April 2014. Web. Accessed 28 March 2019.

‘Royal Army Service Corps’. National Army Museum. N.d. Web. Accessed. 28 March 2019.

‘I Love You, Olevia’. WordPress. 26 July 2012. Accessed. 29 March 2019.

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