Wally Ward was born in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. By the start of the Second World War, Wally was a factory worker living in Bristol, contemplating marriage, a mortgage and starting a family. The First World War is scarcely mentioned in his memoir ‘Fit For Anything’, likely due to his young age at the time, referencing only a Zeppelin flying over his childhood home and a resultant “bright light” when its bombs dropped. However, Wally is able to describe the build-up to and duration of the Second World War and its effect on his life in length.
As with most things, Wally’s participation in the war effort was limited by his epilepsy. Instead of fighting in the war, he maintained his engineering job and provided equipment for the RAF. This meant Wally was able to describe domestic consequences of the war unknown to men in service.
In the years leading up to the Second World War, Wally suggests it was known that the war was imminent and explains how his life plans significantly changed because of it. His marriage was conducted much earlier than planned, without a honeymoon as travel was ill-advised. He also rushed into buying a home in order to ensure he could procure one, with the house he moved into only available due to the owner’s wife’s fear of bombs. Furnishing the house was also an issue due to wood regulations; the furniture produced was referred to as “utility furniture”. Wally briefly mentions building toys for his children during the war years as they were unavailable to purchase.
Wally also witnessed the labour of women during the war by working alongside women in his factory. Wally was admiring of the work produced by the women workers, disregarding the stigma usually associated with female capabilities. Wally argued that “the women [they] had working at our factory did a good job, some of them doing it better than the men had” (33). His supportive attitude towards women is unsurprising granted his credit to his mother, who held up her family due to her labours.
The overall tone of the chapters describing the war-time is distant. Wally seems to be selecting key memories to sell us based on their merit for entertainment, rather than their significance to himself. Interestingly, there is a page describing his pride at making engines for the RAF and his dedication to supporting the war effort. However, this section is omitted from the typed body memoir and is only available in the handwritten section of omitted pages. The typed chapter regarding the war is entitled ‘The Darkest Days’ and deals mostly with the severity of his epilepsy during the war-time, as well as his close encounter with a bombing. It is likely this was done to involve the material Wally deemed the most exciting to the reader – in the omitted page, he wrote that “To try to describe what [he] did each day would be very boring” (79) However, it does mean that most of his writing on his pride to contributing is lost.
Jonathon Bolton’s article Mid-Term Autobiography and the Second World War sheds light on autobiographies by people being in in their mid-life by the Second World War – thus having already lived through the First World War. The article notes that:
“perhaps the most urgent and significant response to the war came in the form of autobiography” (155) and notices an interesting trend in the tone adopted within the writing. Bolton states that “these authors constructed highly impersonal texts that bear a stronger resemblance to depersonalized witness narratives than the stories of individual lives. In fact, I would argue that these texts are similar to what John Downton Hazlitt has called “generational autobiographies”, a sense of kinship with one’s peers that “has been strongest among those who came of age during and after the First World War and among those who came of age during the period of the Vietnam War.” (156)
These concepts can be applied to Wally and what he chose to include in the content of his memoir. Of course, what he deems relevant is often dictated by his target readership – other epileptic sufferers. However, the idea of depersonalisation is clear within Wally’s memoir. Not only does Wally omit the section regarding his own role in and feelings towards the war effort, he also scarcely mentions his children, despite a heavy focus on the “comradeship” (79) between himself and his work colleagues.
Wally appears to separate himself from his experiences by portraying the war, and much of his life, as a series of dynamic events and plotlines as if he were a character in a novel. The emphasis on his colleagues again supports this argument of kinship – the memoir was designed for others who had shared his experiences, thus it would not be necessary to explain things they had also felt. As Wally frequently establishes in his memoir, his identity is not dictated by being British or being working-class. Wally identifies as an epileptic and a factory worker above all else.
Bolton, Jonathan. “Mid-Term Autobiography and the Second World War.” Journal of Modern Literature 30.1 (2006): 155-172.
Ward, Wally. ‘Fit For Anything’. Brunel University Library 2.798