Interestingly, for a man who was alive during both World Wars, George doesn’t dedicate much of his memoir to the topic. Only eight pages of the total 140 are focused entirely on the subject, and the content of those is less auto-biographical and more explanatory – that is, George explains the political and sociological situation the world was in during the era.
Despite being of legal age when the ‘Military Service Act of January 1916’ (Spartacus Educational, N. page) was introduced, George does not appear to have been conscripted. He doesn’t write a thing about personal war-time experiences, and given the detailed, explanatory nature of his memoir, this is a telling sign that he was not involved.
We can safely assume this was because of his occupation at the time; mining. Understandably, the government required a certain portion of miners to stay at their posts, as, without the coal they unearth, the country would run to a standstill. However, most sources seem to indicate that men were desperate to join up, as detailed by David Silby here, ‘After Britain entered the First World War… British men volunteered for military service at a rate never before seen… By the end of 1915, more than 2.5 million had joined’ (1), and you would expect that George would have similar views to the masses, due to his lack of education at the time.
His tone during the eight pages about war, however, indicates otherwise. George writes very cynically about the topic, shown in these examples: ‘they made it appear a glorious thing to die for one’s country’ (125), ‘the so-called winners of the war settled down’ (128), ‘people assemble in churches where God is brought in to approve what is being done’ (129). It is clear that he is anti-war but, in keeping with his rational and thoughtful persona, he does not deny its necessity, ‘the country’s mode of life was in peril’ (126).
His objectivity and fairness in this section of the memoir raises the potential for interesting analysis. He clearly empathises with the Germans in some way as he writes, ‘the Peace Treaty was forced upon the enemy… and it meant bitterness… recalled disappointment and revulsion’ (127) and there is an underlying feeling of unease towards the celebratory attitude of the government. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is in some way related to George’s working class roots, and perhaps a subconscious awareness of himself being persecuted by the ruling class in the country.
Analysing the effect war had on George’s memoir yields surprising results. It seems thatWW1, although arguably the most impactful event of the 20th century, had very little sway on George, or at least not on his writing. This is reflective of his general objective way of looking at things, I think the topic of personal effects the war had on him might have been difficult to write about. He goes no further than mentioning that ‘his sister’s husband was one of the best, but not after Gallipol’ (128), inferring the death of his brother in law. Even in that case, he extrapolates the personal detail into something that concerns the masses when he says ‘such cases may be multiplied’ (128).
Researching this part of his memoir has reinforced just how thoughtful and fair George was. Even when writing about times of great emotional turmoil he stays level-headed and perfectly calm.
‘Conscription and the First World War’. Spartacuseducational.com. Web. N.d. Acessed 16/01/2014.
Gregory, George, ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:283.
Silbey, David. British Working Class and Enthusiasm for War, 1914-1916. London: Routledge, 2004.