Violet Austin (1910-1983): War, Memory and Life-Writing

‘Everyone was eager, yet afraid to read the newspapers’ (7)

Violet Austin was four years old at the outbreak of the First World War and admits that it ‘did not mean much to [her]’ (7) because of her young age. She recalls the anticipation people felt about receiving news from the battlefield and how they ‘dreaded the knock of the telegraph boy’ (7). Austin’s oldest brother, George, who had signed up as soon as he was eighteen was killed in 1917. One of her most vivid memories of the war was seeing a German Zeppelin in the glow of searchlights that was later shot down in Enfield.

Newspaper Account of the Zeppelin Crash, 1916
Newspaper Account of the Zeppelin Crash, 1916

Austin explains the poor conditions the soldiers lived in and how her mother would send George ‘whatever she could spare in food parcels’(7). Life did not improve for many soldiers on their return home as many faced unemployment and resorted to ‘wearing medals singing in the streets for money’ (8).Austin memories of the war also include queuing at the butcher with her mother as there were food shortages. She never seems to talk negatively of the war, despite the terrible things that occurred during in it and she maintains a fairly patriotic tone and enforces the sense of community felt on the home front.Her lack of opinion regarding the war may be due to her young age during the war.

Austin, Violet, ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:22

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