One of the first things I learnt about Claude Robinson when I was initially discovering his past is that he experienced something akin to PTSD after his friends were slaughtered at the Dardanelles during the first world war. Claude himself was exempt from military service because of a neck injury and could only stand by and continue with his education and employment at home whilst his friends died in battle overseas. However, in this memoir, signs of Robinson’s distress are rare and instead the effects that the two world wars had on England generally are prioritised over the author’s personal reactions to them. War is an almost subliminal theme in the memoir, because even when it is not being directly referenced, the grim state of affairs that Robinson portrays, whether it be Jarrow School’s financial woes or the poverty in the town, are usually cordoned off into the categories: before and after WW1 or before and after WW2.
Although he was not on the frontline once again, Robinson grants the reader insight into the years prior to and after the second world war and its dark influence on his time in Jarrow. He provides details on the economical and social state of Jarrow after he arrived in 1934 as well as how the war changed things for those in the town. In my Education and Schooling post, I explored how air raids from the Germans in the late 30s became part of a routine for Jarrow School and how evacuation was never a straightforward task for the school to organise. However, it was not just the school that suffered from wartime, the entirety of Jarrow fell victim and Robinson does not ignore this fact. Before he goes into the detail on the poverty of Jarrow prior to WW2, Robinson returns to WW1 with a rare reference to his father in this passage:
‘Shipbuilding, before and during the first war when enormous profits were made, was a highly prosperous industry, being one of three major exports. As an example of the profits made during the first world war, my father, though a poorly made schoolmaster, had scraped together a nest egg of £200’ (pg.73) Robinson, C. These We Have Loved
The first world war appeared to be a lucrative time for Robinson’s family, and Claude’s father’s endeavours in the shipbuilding industry improved the family home in time for his son’s return from university: ‘my home had for the first time in my life anything more than scraps of furniture and bits of carpet’ (pg.73). But by the time Claude was in Jarrow in the 1930s, any sign of this financial prosperity for the working class seemed long gone. With the depression in full effect and the second world war on the cusp of breaking out, there were ‘slums on the north side which appeared to be accepted by the establishment…by the rest of the town’ (pg.74). Robinson saw this imbalance of wealth as the result of the ‘inflated wages of the war and post war periods’, but the memoir scorns his own ignorance of the severity of this poverty at the time, calling himself ‘behind the times’ (pg.74).
‘The overcrowding, the rat infested conditions, the high death rate especially among the young, were regarded with strange complacency’ (pg.74) Robinson, C. These We Have Loved
In these years prior to WW2, the Jarrow that Claude Robinson remembers had not fully recovered from the first of the great wars, just as it was again about to be submerged in the economical chaos that wartime brings.
Robinson, C. (1982) These We Have Loved