Stanley Rice (1905-1981): War, Memory & Life Writing

T-34/85 Tank developed fir the Second World War Photograph taken at The Imperial War Museum in Salford, Manchester.
Writing Lives IWM8 T-34/85 Tank developed for the Second World War.
Photograph taken at The Imperial War Museum in Salford, Manchester.


Stanley Rice lived through the First and Second World War. He documents his feelings towards both explicitly, mentioning the horrors he witnessed and how they had a long term effects on his mental health. Rice was just nine years old when the First World War broke out, yet he still had a vivid sense of the brutality of it. He says that ‘In the First World War my grandfather (very patriotic grandfather) and three uncles were all in the Services. My favourite Uncle Bill, always with a ready laugh, was the only one who did not return. When the news came through that he had been killed, I remember crying like a baby. Such was the loss to me’ (7). Even when writing the autobiography, the vivid sense of grief felt after losing a loved one has stuck with him forever.

Rice’s Patriotism has been passed down from his grandfather, as he says ‘he was so patriotic that he would buy only British made goods, right down to a box of matches. If a box marked ‘Foreign Made’ was offered to him, he would throw them back with a very strong comment’ (8). This shows the great impact the War had on people and how they stood by their country, even to what may seem such small detail. Obviously War, then, affected his life from young age, throughout adulthood and is something that reoccurs from the beginning of his autobiography, to the end. In Jonathan Bolton’s journal article on Mid-Term Autobiography and the Second World War, it is stated that:

‘In the corpus of World War II literature, perhaps the most urgent and significant response to the war came in the form of autobiography. From the moment that the ‘next war’ became inevitable through the end of the 1940s, mid-term or mid-life autobiography was, for writers who expected to be killed or who felt their life had been rent in two, the most suitable genre in which to describe their experience and reconcile themselves to their present circumstances’ (Bolton 155).

This could be one of multiple reasons why Rice writes, to reflect on the negative repercussions of War and bad luck it brought to his family. Also, to educate future generations on what happened and to give his version of events.

Focusing on a positive aspect of War in his memoir, Rice remembers how it brought people together. He says ‘People knew how to live in the same house, sharing common entrance and staircase, to accept one another whatever their faults, each with equal rights to be where they were. I think the qualities of comradeship and that ‘we are all in it together’, existed then as regular part of life. The spirit of understanding was there. Such an atmosphere usually comes to light mainly in times of War only’ (11). Rice shows how even in times of hardship, in times where people had nothing, there was still a momentum kept which is special to that era.

Writing Lives IWM
Photograph taken at The Imperial War Museum in Salford, Manchester.

The Second World War had a devastating impact on Rice’s flourishing business. He says ‘Business still prospered right up to the day War was declared. The Government then suddenly banned all film productions, and commercial advertising studios gradually came to a standstill’ (38), showing that it was all out of his control. He then became an Armourer in the R.A.F in October 1941, where he went overseas to places such as Sierra Leone, West Africa and Bathurst in Gambia, dealing with different aircraft operations. Of course, he missed his wife terribly and the feeling was mutual. They wrote to each other as much as they could and ‘her letters were always with a note of cheerfulness, never depressing. She must have written to me almost every day and she remembered everything such as parcels for birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas; they all reached me safely’ (49). Rice even named one of the aircrafts after Ethel; a sweet gesture to keep her in his thoughts always.

It is clear that over time, Rice has come to truly appreciate his wife Ethel, more than when he was younger. Not necessarily that he did not love her as much but that he was unable to express himself as well as he could have. When he arrived home after the War he says ‘On reflection, I do not think I showed my joy in perhaps the right way I should have done. If so, I am more than sorry. At such times I tend to take everything very coolly and suppress my emotions. I know I felt the cold badly and can recall the cheerful coal fire’ (49). The War might have had more of a damaging effect on Rice than he realises. That it did mentally scar him and it has not been until old age, when putting pen to paper in his memoir, that he can connect with these feelings.

RICE, Stanley, ‘The Memories of a Rolling Stone: Times and incidents remembered’, TS, pp.68 (c. 33,600 words). Brunel University Library, Volume 2:661.

Bolton, Jonathan. Mid-Term Autobiography and the Second World War. Journal of Modern Literature: Volume 30, Number 1. Fall 2006. pp. 155-172

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