Charles V. Skargon (b. 1900): War & Memory

Now came the most wonderful moment in the lives of those of us who had sailed the seas for over four years. Years battling with storms and mountainous seas, fogs, icebergs, but especially years ever on the alert for mines, submarines, torpedoes and enemy aircraft. As soon as the pilot climbed up on to the bridge he imparted the news to the Captain, Captain E. Davies, that an armistice had been signed between the warring nations and that Germany had surrendered.

Charles V. Skargon, ‘From Boy to Man the Hard Way’, p. 117.

sink
Sinking of a ship after it has been torpedoed by a German U-boat during the First World War.

War was something which pervaded Skargon’s life for the entirety of the duration of the First World War. They inform a great deal of the time chronicled in the autobiography, spanning over his teenage years as a steward and seaman. Skargon was directly involved in the war, for one year being in the merchant navy service and afterwards manning a lightship and transport vessel. His experience of the war took him around the British Isles to the North Sea to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It would play a pivotal role in the development of the young Skargon into the man he became during this time.

At the onset of war, Skargon was suddenly embroiled in a very serious and brutal world at the tender age of fourteen. The sea was swamped by naval mines which, if struck by a ship, would easily sink it and its crew. Submarines too were in operation, hidden underwater where the ships could not see. These two constant threats must have constantly been on Skargon’s mind yet he maintained composure and carried on with his duties, serving the crews of the ships. His was a small role, but Skargon still felt he was contributing to the war effort. This quality in Skargon, an iron will and strong sense of duty, were born out of the conflict. The war taught him how to work and how necessary work was.

Skargon writes of the war in a patriotic voice, drawing on the strength of camaraderie between troops and seamen. ‘We had not run into any enemy trouble. There had been scares but we carried on regardless.’ (45) His mind is that the crews of these ships during the war were bonded by their duty to protect themselves and each other and that meant doing one’s duties to the best of their ability. A bad lookout or gun fired could spell disaster, and the ships would not stand a chance against the German submarines in a fair fight.

This sense of duty extended to civilians as well. During a trip to Antwerp during the war, Skargon’s vessel found ‘Zeppelins were sailing over the city and dropping bombs and soon after a frantic rush on the part of all these poor people they were all shepherded aboard.’ (9) The war effort bound all peoples in the hardship and compassion and community was essential to endure.

‘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.

tackk. ‘U.S. Rise to World Power.’ [online]
Available at: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/cc/43/72/cc4372311c0702af71049cb13de75394.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.

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