Now about a year after we were married my wife presented me with a lovely baby daughter. She was to my thinking the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, but my wife was very ill for a long time afterwards. It was nearly heart-breaking now to have to go away from home for such long periods but I still had a family to support and I couldn’t earn the same money in a shore job even if I could get one. So for a while I stuck it out.
Charles V. Skargon, ‘From Boy to Man the Hard Way’, p. 202.
Home and family in From Boy to Man the Hard Way were things which gave Skargon’s life anchorage when he was out at sea for extended periods of time. He would write regularly when away to his mother and later his girlfriend and wife about his travels and work far away from home. He felt it right to always send a certain amount of allotment money to his mother throughout his career to tend for his family home and his mother whom got little money and time to herself with such a big family unit.
Skargon was the fourth of nine children, having three older and three little brothers and three little sisters. His earliest recollection was being ‘pulled hither and thither by an elder brother on an errand to the shop for a small purchase.’ (1) He was close to his older siblings in his childhood, often going off into an area of bog nearby named the “mud” to play rounders and punt makeshift rafts through the muddy water. His mother kept the family in line whilst his father earned their income as a seaman. He reflects, ‘We were a very happy family and we were well fed and clothed as well as money would allow.’ (1) They were a poor household but Skargon’s mother made every penny stretch. But from a young age Skargon recognised that it was his duty when he got to working age to provide additional monetary support to his family. Home and family in a sense were the impetus for Skargon’s labour and adventures at sea, the main focus of his memoirs.
Domestic work in this household does not seem to have been gendered: ‘The eldest of us boys had our various jobs to do at home, such as, one to scrub the lino and another to scrub the deal table, etc. and it had to be done properly.’ (1) However, the boys were expected to get a job once they were of age whereas the girls continued domestic roles at home.
There is little said after the first few pages of From Boy to Man the Hard Way about the lives of Skargon’s siblings and father except for the details of his two eldest brothers’ deaths. Though sad, these events do not interfere with the narrator’s life. This perhaps illustrates the ideology of the working-class man in this period in history, having experienced the atrocities of war, they are desensitised to death and their sense of duty to their family, to earn them money, overrides their emotional response. The breakdown in relationship with siblings is not deliberate but essential to carry out one’s responsibilities outside of the family home.
Family was a very important factor to Skargon nonetheless. Once he had married, the demands of the life of a seaman took their toll and the the gulf between home and family life was widened and magnified. Then when they had a daughter, it led to him retiring from seamanship. ‘I had a beautiful young wife and a dear little daughter, and I wasn’t going to leave them. Not if I could help it.’ (210)
Skargon’s life at sea required him to stay and live on ships sometimes for months at a time. These therefore became his temporary homes. Work and home life here melded into one and the effects of this Skargon could identify very early on in his maritime career when he was still a steward: ‘Time, for some of the officers and crew, hung heavy on off watch times. Like all seamen, they all played cards, but on watch everybody was kept on their toes.’ (14) Perhaps this shows a lack of separation between work and home life was problematic, not offering sailors the proper relaxation they needed to alleviate the stress from work.
The family home is a base in the memoirs where Skargon can return to when out of or between work. Skargon appears free to this without prior notice, a given that the family home is always welcome. His aunt’s house in Wandsworth works similarly, giving Skargon a place to stay when he works out of London. Despite being out of contact with his aunt for many years, they are more than happy to accommodate him. Family is an extension of the home, a network which offers support to its members. The working-class family was a close-knit one and no matter how despondent the communication between members was, a strong bond always remained.
Charles V. Skargon’, in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent. ‘The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography‘, Brighton: Harvester, 1984, vol. 2, no. 712.
Maine Maritime Museum. ‘No. 31: A Jostling of Contraptions.’ [online]
Available at: http://www.mainemaritimemuseum.org/media/orlop/orlop31/31mangle.jpg
[Accessed 10th January 2015]
Skargon, Charles V. ‘ From Boy to Man the Hard Way’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:712.