‘The war was now in its fourth year and despite the suffering and rationing the country did put on a good face for the world to see’.
War is a major theme that reverberates throughout Lottie Martin’s autobiography, Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds. Lottie takes her readers form the innocence of pre-war Britain to the experienced, mournful moments of the war. Indeed, Lottie talks about how ‘times were changing’ in the run up to the war’ and how this not only had a drastic effect on the working-class community of her hometown, Beeston, but on the country as a whole.
Lottie’s opening lines begin with a celebratory description of war on June 8th 1902:
‘The celebration of Victory of our troops in South Africa over the Boers, was reason enough for the whole nation to rejoice … I shall never forget that glorious day’
Indeed, from this quotation, we gain a high sense of the patriotic nature of Britain. There is a strong evocation of pride as the ‘men marched through the streets in action’. Lottie writes how she ‘shall never forget that day’ revealing insights into the role of memory as great historical moments are embedded in her mind.
Indeed, there are constant references to the general innocence and ignorance prevailing Britain at the beginning of the war:
‘life went on in a carefree happy way until August 4th 1914 when England declared war on Germany not that this made much difference to us … the band played them down the railway station … I can honestly say innocent lads went to their doom, for many of them never returned’
This is a poignant moment for the reader. We gain a sense of soldiers being excited at the prospects of exploring the world as they marched down to the railway as the ‘band played’. However, on reflection, Lottie makes many critical asides: ‘I can honestly say innocent lads went to their doom, for many of them never returned’ emphasising the drastic consequences of the war.
It is at this stage in the narrative where Lottie’s tone changes; her language becomes highly elegiac. Indeed, the war had an enormous impact on the lives of men, women and children with immediate and long terms consequences:
‘So many young men were being killed in France and there seemed no end to the dreary days of war … I realised the misery and anxiety this brought to families with men and boys of military age’
Lottie links the war to another theme that dominates her memoir: death. Not only were families ‘anxious’ at the thought of their loved ones being at war, but it was the endless number of deaths that added to their ‘misery’.
The war played an enormous role on the emotions of the young. Lottie’s anxieties turn to religion: ‘I would ask God to take them up to Heaven … how could they be ready to die, most of them so very young and some a little older, perhaps leaving wives and young children’. Again, this adds another poignant tone to the memoir as we imagine Lottie desperately praying to God for peace. She begs that the men are sent to ‘Heaven’ and she is anxious of the families left behind.
Lottie remembers vividly the impacts the war had on her own sense of identity, recalling how working-class women became involved in the war: ‘ In April 1916 Polly, a work mate of mine, and myself decided we would … get a job on munitions, Chilwell Shell filling Factory’. Indeed, employment became available for women working in such areas as munitions: ‘I was taken on as an overhead crane driver … we could hardly believe our eyes, we had to ascend a ladder to man the crane and descend by way of a rope’.
Women were beginning to take on roles usually associated with men. Lottie was challenged physically at the start of this job but pecuniary anxieties forced her to work: ‘I was never very brave … if I failed to mount the ladder I would be out of work and this I could not face, I had my board to pay, so up I went’.
Again, the war not only influenced the nation as a whole, but also small, individual towns. Lottie evokes disturbing images of the impacts that the explosion of the munitions factory had on Chilwell: ‘the terrible explosion that occurred on July 1st 1918 came as a shock to everyone … men, women and young people burnt … some bleeding with limbs torn off, eyes and hair literally gone’.
However, it is only at the end of Lottie’s narrative where we can all take a breath of relief:
‘we reached the day everyone had been hoping and praying for, the eleventh day of November 1918 … The band was assembled with full uniforms and bright instruments … the band played and we all sang that beautiful old hymn ‘O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come’.
Indeed, Lottie uses the theme of music to highlight how the nation was able to rejoice again. In this sense we can see how the narrative closes its cycle. Like the beginning of the memoir where Britain was celebrating the ‘victory of our troops in South Africa over the Boers’, now Britain is celebrating the end of World War One.
Overall, Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds provides great insight into the war, covering the physical and emotion impacts on both a national and local level. To end positively, however, we can see how the war had an enlightening effect on the class system within Britain. Eric J. Leed states in ‘Class and Disillusionment in World War I’: ‘in the trenches young “temporary gentlemen” from the West Country and South Coast … lived for the first time in their lives with Durham miners’. Thus the class consciousness of society began to evaporate as classes mingled; not only breaking up a country at war, but uniting a highly class-conscious society.
 Eric J. Leed, ‘Class and Disillusionment in World War I’ The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Dec., 1978), p. 680
Barker, Lottie, ‘My Life as I Remember It, 1899-1920’, TS, pp.70 (c.31,000 words). Brunel University Library
Burnett, John, David Vincent, David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987) vol.2 no.37.
Hill, Paula Never Let Anyone Draw the Blinds by Lottie Martin (Nottingham: 125 Bramcote Lane, 1985)
Leed, Eric J. ‘Class and Disillusionment in World War I’ The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Dec., 1978), pp. 680-699