Harry Dorrell (B. 1903): Researching Writing Lives

I have really enjoyed being part of the Writing Lives project and having the opportunity to read and represent Harry Dorrell’s memoir. I think the work that the Writing Lives project does is extremely important because it gives a chance for voices that haven’t always had a chance to tell their story to do just that. This I feel would have been particularly important to Harry as he touches on the idea of history being an important tool to learn from, and says that if we do not learn from it we are bound to repeat it. This is particularly present when he talks about The General Strike because he feels that although the facts have been recorded in history, the pain and suffering of that time has been forgotten. This relates to Writing Lives because the memoirs give us a chance to experience first-hand memories of the personal, everyday lives of working class people. They allow us to gain a greater understanding of what it was really like to live through that time.

I felt that it was important to tell Harry’s story because it contained a lot of pain and details about his illness that he felt he had to keep to himself through his life.  Harry’s depression became a secret that he hid from the outside world on a daily basis, and although his family did know, there were still things he kept hidden. For example, when he tells the story about walking through the traffic  ‘not to be injured but killed’ (138), he says of his wife Joan, ‘until this moment of writing she has never known the truth of it’. We can see here that the memoir provides a way for him to tell the secrets that he has never been able to and, in a way come, clean about the darkest parts of his illness. We can see this a lot in the epilogue of the memoir when he talks about his ‘secret life’ (161), and makes sure it is known that despite his illness he does not want to die and leave his ‘loved and loving family’ (161).

I would have loved to have been able to find Harry’s descendants and see if they knew about the memoir, as I feel he would have wanted his wife and two children to read it, and for them to be given a deeper insight into his life. But when looking on Ancestry.com the only information on the family was of his parents and siblings from a 1911 census. I will however, continue to look into this and hopefully learn even more about Harry’s life. The fact that Harry’s story is now online and accessible to the public will help with this and hopefully will allow his story to reach more people, and maybe even his relatives.

I feel very honored to have been given this opportunity to be the one to help Harry share his story, and to have been able to read his beautiful memoir in detail, especially given the fact that so much of it was very personal to him and his illness.

Feeling so deeply yet find difficulty in uttering those things. And the words too rarely reach their lips.


Feature image obtained from Ancestry.com

Dorrell, Harry, ‘Falling Cadence: An autobiography of failure’, TS, pp.161 (c.97,000 words). Fragment published in the POEU Journal, Aug 1983. BruneI University Library. AWC- 2:0231

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