David Vincent argues that autobiographies like Ingram’s are needed due to ‘the poverty and unreliability of much of the available literary material’ (Vincent, 223). According to Vincent then, Ingram provides a memoir which is much needed by giving his reader a story with a purpose to show the negative effects of the war on his family and economy.
In the opening paragraphs of his memoir, Ingram gives us an insight into the loss of the father/son relationship he suffered due to the war: ‘I had a Father, too, I was told, but no personal recollection of him, for he was away at some vague place known as ‘the War’.’ (1). Ingram touches the reader with this heart-breaking account of death: ‘As we sheltered in the ditch we saw an old couple from a neighbouring cottage come staggering along the road, bent double under the weight of a heavy metal box… When day dawned there was no sign of the old couple, but the box was still there — empty’ (2-3). This suggests the memoir is aiming to show a very real consequence of the war not only on his family but on others as well.
Gagnier claims that working class autobiographies were written ‘to record lost experiences for future generations; to raise money; to warn others; to teach others; to relieve or amuse themselves; to understand themselves’ (Gagnier, 342). This is exactly what Ingram does when he gives his reader an insight to the hardships on the home front during the war and the animosity that developed between people fighting for the same side. He recounts that ‘Standing in a queue outside a butcher’s shop one day I was startled by a quarrel which broke out between the shopkeeper and some customers. The women wanted to buy meat, but the butcher refused to sell it to them. This was before food rationing began.’ (8). I would assume from this that the main purpose of his memoir is to show the negative effects the war had on its people and economy.
Ingram also uses his memoir to show the consequences of suffering with a disability at the time he was growing up as he was nearly not allowed to emigrate with his family to Canada since ‘the doctors said that the crippled child would have to be returned to England’ (10). This reflects the prejudiced views of people suffering with disabilities during that time which suggests that Ingram wanted to write for people in a similar position to himself, either at that period of time or in today’s society. He went on to become ‘deputy headmaster of a school for physically handicapped children’ (21) which stemmed from the disability he suffered himself. He also went on to write ‘The World’s My University’ (Ingram, 1977) ‘for readers who are visually handicapped’ (21). It is evident Ingram wanted to use his life to help people in a similar situation to him and make sure they had better opportunities than he did.
The author may not have been influenced by his readers as to what he includes in his memoir but it is evident that he is influenced by them in his tone of writing about certain aspects of his life. It tends to be more personal than factual sometimes which is by no means a flaw to the memoir; in fact, it gives the memoir character and an insight into personal experiences of the war rather than the historical accounts we are usually given. However, Ingram is very blunt about certain emotional events that happened to him and his family such as the suicide of his uncle: ‘One night Uncle Ned got up, dressed himself, walked down to the River Stour, waded into the deepest pool till the water was over his head, and drowned.’ (4). However, as a contrast he can also be very revealing about his emotions such as describing his fear at his mother and father’s fights: ‘Lameness and failing eyesight can be fought, or endured, but emotional difficulties eat into one’s soul like acid. Mother and Father did not get on well together.’ (13). The contrasting tones in his writing suggest he wants his reader to know his feelings as a child and empathise with children like him.
The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, ed. by John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989) 3 volumes, 2:430.
Ingram, Jim. A Wartime Childhood. Brunel University. 1987.
Vincent, David. Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 1980.
Image reference: Poster to encourage people to ration (Accessed 2/11/2015)
Image reference: Air raid shelter WW1 (Accessed 5/11/2015)