Amy Gomm (b.1899-1984): War and Memory

‘Everbody’s war, that had been threatening for so long, actually broke out a few months later. It still had little impact on us. We were submerged in our own personal grief’ (Gomm, 138).

A War Edition Newspaper

The first world war, which broke out during the beginning of 1914, seemed to have little impact on the Gomm family. They had their own personal war occurring within their home. Amy’s mother had been declared as recovering from breast cancer but in February 1916, her mother unfortunately died after a relapse of breast cancer, ‘Mother had collapsed; had been lifted into her bed. She never got up again’ (Gomm, 138). This tragedy shaped the war years for Amy’s family. Life would never be the same again.

Although Amy suggests the lack of impact war had on her family, the family still heavily felt the effects of war. They struggled with their launderette business which was making less money during the war period, ‘the laundry business folded up. About Christmas 1914 we said goodbye to Hurst Street, and all moved into the club. The war hotted 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, 138). All the struggles that the war brought were less important to Amy and her family as she knew her mother’s illness was suddenly becoming a losing battle.

Part of Amy’s personal war within her family was the changing relationship that Amy and her siblings shared with their father (previously written about in my Home and Family Part Two Post). Amy sadly reflects on the impact her mother had on her father whilst she was alive, ‘until the day of Mother’s funeral her hand was on Dad’s shoulder restraining him. Her influence held that long. He was the dad we’d always known; the head of the family; respected, obeyed’ (Gomm, 129). Despite her mother’s death, the way in which Amy wrote about her father was like he was also dead at this time. Through the death of her mother, she lost her father too. This was a family war that seemed unimaginable reading the earlier half of ‘Water Under the Bridge.’

However, whilst all of Amy’s family were strongly grieving the death of their mother, her thoughts on her father’s behaviour seems to be there was no excuse, ‘all right, he had a rough time for two or three years, too. He wasn’t worn out with caring for Mother, with sitting up nights as we were. But there had been nothing but work and sadness in his life. He was due to “break out.” He did – with what seemed to be unnecessary speed’ (Gomm, 129). The fact Amy underlines ‘he’ and does not write ‘dad’ or ‘father’ in this particular sentence indicates the aggravation she felt towards his changing behaviour. Although he did not spend as much time looking after their mother, Amy claims that he led a life filled with sadness and his was inevitable. The timing of her father’s downward spiral resulted in a breakdown of his relationship with his children. Her father remarried shortly after the death of his wife and Amy’s bitterness toward his new wife is undeniable.  

Despite the changes in her family life, Amy soon realised the impact war was to have on her life. The thought of conscription consumed the family with worry, ‘conscription meant two weeks for the two who wouldn’t conform. They were taken away within a couple of weeks’ (Gomm, 131). This refers to two of Amy’s cousins who had pacifist beliefs and refused to partake in the violence of war. However, Amy’s pronouncements on this matter are very limited. This could be because of her age, as a teenager she may not have fully understood what was going on or it could be a topic that she did not want to delve into much detail about. Roy Maclaren makes the point that, ‘the prospect of conscription remained unpopular with those who regarded it as an alien, continental practice, not in accordance with traditional concepts of British liberty, as well as those who, more prosaically, saw it as likely to reduce industrial productivity’ (106). This provides insight as to why Amy’s cousins would not conform to conscription.

Requirements of Conscription

Due to the vast majority of men partaking in war efforts, this created more jobs for women. Joanna Bourke states, ‘Between 1914 and 1918 an estimated two million women replaced men in employment…Even at the time, women from a variety of backgrounds saw in this cataclysmic war a chance to elevate dramatically their economic and social status through radical reform of employment prospects’ (84). As conscription became more real, so did job opportunities for women. This allowed Amy to get a job tailoring in ‘The Co-op.’ However, she did not want this job as she knew that office work was for her.

This section of the memoir is entitled ‘Our Own Battles’ which indicates just how much Amy’s own family was struggling. However, she remains modest in her struggles and counts her blessings. She shares her sympathies for other families suffering the tragedies of war, ‘maimed and broken relics of fine upstanding men were returning, to take up life where it had left off; to adopt their infirmities to work – if they were lucky enough to get it – hearth and home’ (Gomm, 149). This section of Amy’s memoir indicates the pain and heartbreak women felt with men at war, ‘A woman might, during the four years of the war’s duration, have a husband and several sons to be anxious about; to break her heart over. Every casualty was somebody’s son; and brother, and husband, and father, many of them’ (Gomm, 149). Everyone felt the heartbreak that war brought.

Amy clearly feels sympathetic towards the injured men returning home and considering their circumstances she notes the blessings in her life. With everything that happened in Amy’s life, all the conflict she endured (both militant wars and family wars) she still reminds her reader: ‘We still counted our blessings’ (Gomm, 149).

Works Cited:

324 GOMM, Amy Frances, ‘Water Under the Bridge’, TS, pp.163 (c.55,000 words). Brunel University Library.

Bourke, Joanna. Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity London: Routledge, 1994

Maclaren, Roy. ‘First World War 1914-1918.’ Empire and Ireland. The Transatlantic Career of the Canadian Imperialist Hamar Greenwood, 1870–1948. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.

Images Used:

War Edition Newspaper –
http://vimyridgehistory.com/kit-1/war-breaks/declarations-of-war/news/#gallery/10f2b81d981143b8ba97741fad9d8ac4/2162

WWI Conscription Propaganda –
https://conscriptionwwi.weebly.com/what-is-conscription.html

www.eastsussexww1.org.uk/attitudes-towards-conscription/

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