‘Conscription became a fact of life in those early March days. Her two sons, strongly pacifist, hadn’t joined up.’ (Gomm, pp.131)
The First World War (1914-1918) was a very prominent theme in Amy Frances Gomm’s memoir. She was one of the many working class girls who stepped up to the home front, keeping Britain alive and maintaining the strong country it always was. ‘The ‘Rumours of war’ that filled the air at the beginning of 1914 had little impact on us. Our early spring days were full of sunshine and birdsong.’ (Gomm, pp.125) The reason for this being down to their mother recovering from breast cancer. This happiness unfortunately disappeared as quickly as it came around, with her mother collapsing and never waking up.
‘Everybody’s war, that had been threatening for so long, actually broke out a few months later. We were submerged in our own personal grief.’ (Gomm, pp.128)
At the tender age of only fourteen, Amy tells us of the ill-fated events that occurred as the war was only just beginning. After her mother’s death, the family laundry business came to a rapid end and a copious amount of bills had to be paid. Around Christmas of 1914, ‘The war heated up. We took little notice of it. Victories? Defeats? They came and went. We were fighting our own battle, knowing it had to end in defeat.’ (Gomm, pp.128) As Paul Fussell states, ‘Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected.’ (Fussell) This was certainly the case with Amy in the early days of The Great War, clearly pre occupied with her own problems in life to realise what was to come.
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(Above, a picture of a newspaper clipping from 1914 stating England declaring war on Germany.)
‘ ‘Exhausted’ was the descriptive word for everybody.’ (Gomm, pp.128)
As she tells us of the nights and days that, the family spent nursing for their mother after being bed ridden for two years with cancer. ‘Come to think of it, ‘Exhausted’ was a good word to describe the family fortunes too.’ (Gomm, pp.129) Talking about the days that they used to be better off financially she says that ‘War-time shortages would have put a stop to it, if our own pre-occupation with family affairs hadn’t.’(Gomm, pp.129) Because these family issues arose, Amy appears to express that the sadness was almost inevitable with or without the war. I do feel that she is undermining the war still at this point of her memoir, however soon reveals the real effects it was to have on everyone’s life.
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(Above, an interesting picture of a postcard that was sent out by Selfridges in 1914, shortly after the announcement of The Great War. During the war at the Oxford Street store in London, a shop window became a focal gathering point for many Londoners, known as the ‘war window’. They were able to read the latest war news, ponder over military campaign maps, or look at displays of war photographs.)
Amy explains how ‘Conscription became a fact of life in those early march days.’(Gomm, pp.131) On the evening of 5th January 1916, prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith Rose in his place in the House of Commons to introduce the Military Service Bill (No.2) calling for the compulsory enlistment of unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41. (Adams & Poiner, pp.1) Her cousins were however two out of 1,350 men (Telegraph) who held out for ‘absolute exemption’ from the military service, the only reason she provided for them rejecting conscription was by calling them pacifist. ‘As ‘Conchies’, they were practically alone, there, in their beliefs- beyond the pale. The whole family was isolated and given the cold shoulder.’ (Gomm, pp.131) Amy discusses the matter in a slightly cold way herself, making this the only time I have seen her react as such. She briefly explains that ‘Conscription meant prison for the two who wouldn’t conform. They were taken away, within a couple of weeks.’ (Gomm, pp.131) By the way Amy does not reveal any more about the situation, I sense that it may have still been quite a raw subject to discuss, with her perhaps still reliving the embarrassment it caused at the time.
‘The old couple, practically friendless in that hostile community, worried and anxious about their boys, clung to our boys as their link with humanity.’ (Gomm, pp.131)
(Above, some of the conscription posters from the First World War, 1914-18)
Women joining the workplace, food rationing and the aftermath of world war one. All to be found right here in part two.