Jack Goring (1861 – 1942): War, Memory and Life Writing

Dorothy Perkins Rose
Dorothy Perkins Rose

In 1914 Jack and his wife Jane, celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. Their neighbour, the Fischers, gave them a beautiful vase of home-grown Dorothy Perkin roses. Mr Fischer was a high-standing official in the London branch of the Deutsche Bank. Mrs Fischer was the daughter of a Swiss father and a German mother. They were both ‘admired and loved by all who knew them…neither had the faintest idea of what was coming to us all’ (298).

When rumours of the war became critical, Mr Fischer’s ‘distress was very real’ (299). He had before moving to England, been a Lieutenant under the Kaiser. He was recalled back to Germany on the third of August 1914, and his last words to Jack were ‘I shall never fight the English. I shall not be allowed to fight at all I expect but if you hear that I am at the front you may know that Germany is in a bad way’ (299).

By September, 1914 he had fallen at the front; none of his family ever saw him again.

Mrs Fischer was left in a vulnerable position – deemed an alien by Britain, and treated with suspicion by the Germans and regarded as an Englishwoman. She returned briefly to Essex; eventually finding asylum in America.

I find it very touching, but hardly surprising that Jack begins his memories on WW1 from the point of view of two people, who politically were part of the enemy, but morally were fellow human beings – his friends. Jack’s inherent humanity clearly states that war was ‘coming to us all’ – regardless which side of the fence you happened to be on.

Zeppelin propaganda poster
Zeppelin propaganda poster

The effect on Jack’s advertising business was immediate – 75% of his workforce left to enlist. Jack’s son Leonard, who was at the time studying at business school, quit to join his father to try to keep the business going. Eventually nearly all the employees left, including one who had been with them for ten years – Jack soberly comments ‘I fear he has only regretted it once’ (302).

Home life also altered drastically, as the family income became severely reduced. Jack’s wife Jane, to supplement the family budget, began teaching the local children, just as Jack’s mother Rebecca had done many years previously (mentioned in Jack’s Home and Family blog post).

Meanwhile, it was not just employees of Jack’s who were quitting, clients also withdrew adverts ‘as they didn’t think it consistent with the seriousness of the national situation’ (303). At this point Jack felt that ‘the bottom was dropping out of things’ (303). So, imagine his total surprise when one benevolent client offered him a cheque in lieu of lost income. It ‘was a greater surprise than the jewellers gold watch’ (304) mentioned in Jack’s Life and Labour blog post.

The Sphinx on London Embankment - damaged by an air raid in 1917
The Sphinx on London Embankment – damaged by an air raid in 1917

And so life carried on – one Saturday morning whilst at work, Jack remembers hearing the sound of German planes dropping bombs ‘horribly near’ (306). After the raid finished they all ran outside to witness fires burning here and there, but all were relieved to ‘not see the place in ruins’ (306).

The family, back in Wickford had been very frightened, but relieved to know Jack had avoided injury, or worse.

Wickford may only have been thirty miles away from London, but at least there the family were in relative safety, rather than those living in the Capital. They were still close enough though for the Territorial Army to come and dig a trench at the end of their garden – why exactly, Jack does not say, but the following quote gives a taste of the  unprecedented horror of  WW1 faced by Jack and his family:

‘We saw from our front windows nearly overhead the Zepp in the centre of our searchlights being attacked by anti-aircraft guns and planes and saw the red spot appear in its side and the dreadful thing split and crash in flames well within sight of our own windows. Raids seemed of almost nightly occurrence and the fighting over our heads an ever renewed nightmare, and at last with a terrific roar like an express train a Gotha flew in flames and buried itself and three Germans in the adjoining field where it lay spitting machine gun ammunition for some hours’ (307-308).  

In 1917 Jack’s only son Leonard, was assigned to a cavalry regiment. Imagine then, Jack’s relief that ‘his training outlasted the war by a few days and that his commission never has and I fervently hope never will be experienced’ (310).

The happiness felt for Leonard’s lucky escape was sadly marred by the death of Jack’s eldest daughter Margaret from pneumonia, just ‘four days after the armistice had been so riotously celebrated all over the country’ (311).

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Bibliography:

274 Goring, Jack, Autobiographical notes, MS, pp.332 (c. 27,000 words). Brunel University Library.

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