The focus of Jim Ingram’s memoir is his experiences of the war as a child. He is remembering as an adult his experiences as a child which develops a story of personal and public memory entwined. The memoir begins with the phrase ‘My earliest memory’ (1) and continuing on from this earliest memory Ingram recollects more about the effects of war on the home front rather than combat experiences. In the first couple of pages of his memoir he tells us of ‘the German prisoners-of-war’ (2) and of ‘the night there came the sound of aircraft engines far above us in the dark, and the sound of a voice calling out: “Open up–open up. They bombers be a-coming!”’ (2).
The majority of his recollections are negative about the war as he expresses his discontent that the war ruined his family. He misses out on a relationship with his father for the first years of his life causing a rift between them for a lifetime: ‘I had a Father, too, I was told, but no personal recollection of him’ (1). The war also puts a bridge between his mother and father who eventually stop speaking to each other despite staying married.
The memoir is rich with two of the dominant tones found in most memoirs. Ingram’s memoir is ironic as it describes how the war left long term economic problems for Britain: ‘Demobilized soldiers had been told that they would be returning to a land fit for heroes to live in, but instead they found themselves in a country which did not seem to want them’ (9). Instead of a ‘land fit for heroes to live in’ (9) Ingram and his family were left having to emigrate to Canada in search for better living conditions. Even before the war ended Ingram criticises ‘Soldiers’ families weren’t wanted, it seemed’ (9). It highlights the betrayal by the government who had promised that the sacrifices made by men would be rewarded.
The memoir also incorporates an elegiac tone with it being so reflective of the horrible events that happened on the home front. When Ingram experiences a bomb in his neighbourhood, they all run for shelter and he sees an elderly couple trying to carry a box with them, the next time he is in the open air he cannot find them but the box remains. It is very ominous in its descriptions of the events sometimes which makes us critical of the war for happening and killing innocent people for no just reason. Ingram is clearly dismissive of the war as a positive event and disbelieving of the war propaganda circulating at the time for example the ‘general consensus that it would “all be over by Christmas”’ (Fautley, 69).
Fautley talks about the propaganda used on people at home to do ‘what was perceived as the right thing. One poster depicted a soldier overlooking a bucolic country scene with a winding lane, thatched cottages and rolling hills. “Isn’t this worth fighting for? Enlist now” it implored’ (Fautley, 71). However it is clear that Ingram was not affected by this propaganda as he could never see any good in the war due to the part it played in destroying his family. When Ingram stumbles across his father’s medals from the war he realises why his father was so disappointed with him and he ‘gained a new impression of [his] father’ (18) due to ‘a box containing several medals which he had gained for bravery in the war’ (18). This strengthens his motivation for wanting to prove his capability to his father and a need to prove to his father that he can be the same with the same values and identity, possesses him: ‘No wonder I was such a disappointment to him. Maybe I could not capture a German pill-box, but one day I would prove that I could do something outstanding also’ (19). In turn we see the effects the war had on his family strengthening his sense of the identity he wants to have.
Ingram’s memory of the war is evidently negative however it is possible this is due to his mother’s bitter influence as well as a public memory that has perhaps become a personal memory for Ingram due to him being so young when it all happened. This is one of the interesting things memoirs seem to do; blur fact with fiction to create a moving picture of the author’s life.
The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, ed. by John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1897, 1989) 3 volumes, 2:430.
Ingram, Jim. ‘A Wartime Childhood’. Brunel University. 1987.
Fautley, Chris. The Home Front. 2014.
Image reference: World War 1 Propaganda
Image reference: Promises after World War 1