It appears that Joe Ayre wrote his memoir to reflect upon his childhood and his adolescence, looking back at events which have shaped the way he sees things and made him who he is. Joe is a strong Socialist who felt that “The working class of the British Isles made great sacrifices during the 1914-1918 war.”(4) He does not feel that the working class of Liverpool were appreciated for their efforts during the War, and after the War, he felt that they were even further disregarded.
He speaks for a number of people; his family, his class and also politics as a whole. His autobiography is a constant praise of the working class, rewarding them for their efforts in a Capitalist society which he felt “was ruined” by the dominating constitutions. He talks about how “these people had little enough and yet they were ready to share it with a complete stranger.”(69)
After the First World War, Joe talks about how his family along with the other working class families were forced to survive on rations, “allocated 2 pounds of potatoes for a family per week.”(10) His desire to have his poor background made public was something which Joe felt would put an end to the evils of Capitalism.
Joe Ayre’s memoir is both informative and engaging. He speaks sympathetically about his family and their struggle to cope with the pressures of living a working class life. He talks about their constant battle with unemployment because of the effects of the War. He says how his mother “never really recovered from the shock (of his Brother Tom’s death) and when she was able to get around, she took to drink.”(4) Later in his memoir, Joe talks about his father’s battle with drink too and it is at this point when he realises that he cannot let his own life deteriorate in the same way. Publicising his autobiography in this way proves that he has wanted to stress these issues so that anybody who comes to read this may be inspired to change their own lives.
Since his migration to Canada, Joe does not escape from his poverty-stricken life. Canada is challenging for him. Unemployment, homelessness and starvation are just a number of the issues which face Joe during his time spent travelling in the search for stability. Joe talks in his memoir about the unpleasant lonely life that he experienced in Canada during his search for work. “I just felt absolutely alone and wondering what was going to happen to me.”(69) However, Joe Ayre’s determination was just one of the factors which helped him get through this unsettling period.
His autobiography is very personal and it is a development of how he came to understand his self. Joe speaks not only on behalf of his own sufferings, but he speaks to criticise the capitalist system publicly. Joe meets a number of people whilst working for various farmers in Canada; the first people who he could really define as ‘friends.’ Donald Cruikshank was unique however. Unlike Jenson, Gillie and even himself who were brought up in a working class family, Donald’s family had been wealthy. Joe was never told why Donald had wanted to escape from his middle class life to a life where he was fighting to survive, but Joe felt that it must have been because of his family problems. Despite his now independent life, Joe knew that his sister Edie and his brother Bill would help him when he was suffering, likewise he would help them.
It was not until Joe became more familiar with the world, that his resent towards capitalism was truly brought about. Joe talks about how he “started looking for the alternative to Capitalism, and want, and misery. I am still looking for that and one day it will come.”(82) The purpose of his memoir is to bring about Socialism, whether or not this will take years to succeed.
Joe does not apologise about his ordinariness but instead he uses this to show how a man with a considerably poor family background like himself, is able to independently better his quality of life by escaping from the “gutters of Liverpool.”(42) Liverpool during this time was a city which had a damaging reputation for the number of working class families who had been destroyed by alcohol abuse.
Joe’s autobiography can also be related to people of the modern day, mainly used to research what life was like during the First World War. He cleverly yet subtly links the factual and contextual elements of his memoir to his personal life. He talks about his school and how the working class children “spent more time studying the scripture than anything else.”(8) Joe Ayre suffers because of his restricted education but when he migrates to Canada and is given the opportunity to be better educated, he is very appreciative and grateful. The purpose of his memoir is to help others through his own experience.
John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds), The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989) 2:029
Joe Ayre ‘The Socialist’, MS, pp.178 (c.43,250 words), Burnett Collection of Working Class Autobiography, no. 29, Brunel University Library.