“The Great War was about to begin and no doubt the grim affairs and negotiations leading up to it were hastening to their inevitable climax. Great events indeed but not likely to worry a small child” (Lumb, pg. 1).
Nora Lumb’s memoir is set between the years 1912 and 1923, the time period in her life she calls, ‘childhood’. Because of the age of our author when the war was going on, it was obviously not a prominent concern for Nora herself. Instead, in her autobiography, Nora mentions her family’s concerns: “During the Great War Grandda endured a painful terminal illness and even though food was beginning to be in short supply, mother would make little custards and other delicacies to tempt his appetite” (Lumb, pg. 2). Referring to the rationing of food shows the change in the family and Nora’s lifestyle because of the war. This was a significant alteration in daily life to every family in Britain during the war, (Casserly, D., 2014.).
Other authors that contributed to the Burnett Collection had far more severe memories of the war which affected their lives first hand. One author who really felt the effects of the war was May Jones. Her boyfriend was sent to fight and she remembers in detail the ordeal she suffered when finding out he had been killed and realising she must continue her life without him: “The shock and loss was terrible, I felt I had lost half of myself or was it my twin soul, I knew then that I should die an old maid, I was only twenty years old” (Jones, pg. 44).
Members of Nora’s family were sent away to fight but, because of her age, this isn’t a topic she concentrates on, unlike May Jones. The only knowledge the audience receives about this is when she speaks of her sick grandfather and how family members come to see him when they were on leave: “Sometimes one of my uncles on leave from France would be there by the bed-side and the talk would be of the war and life at the front.” (Lumb, pg. 2). It is possible that Nora’s uncle who fought in the war isn’t a larger part of her memoir because of his absence from her life.
Also, it was unclear if the man referred to was an uncle from her mother or father’s side of the family. It may also be possible that he wasn’t even an uncle, just a family friend that was known to the children as ‘uncle’. It was therefore not possible to research this in more detail because Nora doesn’t provide enough information on him and his background.
She mentions how lucky she feels because her father was not sent to the war and had a steady job: “During the post war depression father always had work and great was the pity for the out of work war veterans who sang in the streets or played mouth organs in the hope of gathering a few pence from people not a great deal better off than themselves.” (Lumb, pg. 4-5).
Nora’s memories of the war were not all bad. Because of her family’s involvement in the church, she remembers the ‘Church Hospital’ created for wounded soldiers in her ‘very own’ church, “As the war progressed more hospitals were needed and the Church Hall of the Church we attended was fitted out as a hospital for less serious cases and convalescents.” (Lumb, pg. 2-3). She recalls the comic memories of these war veterans contributing to “The Tea and Concert”. Nora reflects on these memories with pleasure, “At the time of the War hospital in the Church Hall, one of the doctors, recognising that for men recovering from war wounds, boredom was a matter to overcome, formed a small entertainment group from the more talented of his patients. As the convalescents were given blue hospital suits to wear the resultant group was called ‘The Blue Boys’.” (Lumb, pg. 8). This positive memory coming from the overall negative consequence of the war encourages the audience to remember that Nora was only a child when the war broke out.
Bibliography: Casserly, D., 2014. WWI Food Shortages and Rationing.
May Jones in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:401