Percy Vere (H.V.Smith) (b.1913): Researching Writing Lives

Hard work and perseverance paid off in the end and it was worth it.’ (Vere, 20)

Slightly daunted at the task of studying autobiographies, but confident in my love of blogging, I began the Writing Lives module in January 2017. I’m glad to say that I do not regret my decision, In fact it was more interesting and eye-opening than I could have ever expected. Page by page, Percy Vere’s story unfolded before me and although it is a short memoir, it is dense with the information that he wished to share with the world.

A copy of Percy’s original autobiography from the Burnett archives

When I chose the autobiography I was aware that Percy Vere was pseudonym for H.V.Smith, but I was unaware of how frustrating it would be when I was unable to find any public record on him after his birth certificate. However, Percy did purposely omit the name of his family and many important dates from his memoir, and I respect that this may have for an important reason that I am unaware of.

Percy’s memoir has taught me a great deal about the life of 20th century working class people, far more than a history textbook could have. It has enhanced my knowledge of British history, opening my eyes to the world that the working class lived in and the stark comparison to modern day life. In Percy, I found similarities to my grandfather who was born around ten years after Percy, in Ireland. He too was a lorry driver and I wonder how similar the men’s day-to-day lives may have been. Curious about my own family history, I began researching with the help of Ancestry.com; however I was shocked to find out from a relative that I am related to Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, who was cousin of my grandmother, Pearl (Montgomery) Smyth.

I take much pride in the blog that I have created using Percy’s story. Despite writing under a different name, it is clear that Percy wanted his story to be heard and I believe that I have helped to do so by making it accessible to a public and worldwide audience. From my previous research for Prison Voices in my second year of study, I knew that I enjoyed the challenge of blogging for a public audience rather than the usual writing essays simply for my university tutors. However, when you’re writing about someone’s life, it becomes more than just an enjoyable module but something that is important to public history and important to the memory of H.V.Smith. Therefore, it became important for me to do his story justice. My classmates were an incredible help throughout the process, providing me with support as I published my own blog posts, as well as providing informative and interesting posts that allowed me to delve into the lives of the other working class men and women who shared so many similarities with Percy.

Croydon; where Percy grew up
Croydon; where Percy grew up

Finally, social media has been an incredible spur for myself and my fellow students in our research and the publications of our posts. Twitter has acted as a hub in which I have been able to share my posts and receive replies from readers all over the world. With Twitter pages like Children’s History Society sharing to an even larger audience than I could have reached myself. Social media also acted as mode of support from my classmates who have shared my posts and commented praise and advice, which, I then did in return.

It is with a heavy heart that I finish the Writing Lives module and my undergraduate degree. I am proud of what I have achieved since January and I am grateful for my love of blogging and the knowledge that I have gained from the module and Percy’s story. I have gained vital skills which have taught me what it means to be a good blogger and researcher. Lastly, I hope that my writings have contributed to public history in a way that Percy would approve.

 

Works cited:

Vere, Percy, The Autobiography of a Working Man , Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:783

 

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