Kathleen Betterton (B.1913) : War, Memory and Life Writing

     

            ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary – it’s a long way to go; It’s a long way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I know; Goodbye Piccadilly – Farewell, Leicester Square!’ (44).

 

During the First World War Kathleen was only a child. Her father was never sent away, deemed medically unfit. Her recollections of her life at home during the First World War reflect child like naivety. Less fortunate than herself she tells how other children in her class had family members who was lost or killed on the front line. But being children ‘they lived from moment to moment and shouted and chased each other in unshadowed gaiety’ (25).

Air Raid Poster
Air Raid Poster

 

She writes with a comical tone of how the ‘Air raids provided Hilda and me with our happiest diversions’ (24).  She nostalgically thinks back to eating biscuits and playing with her dolls. Her most vivid memories were of her mother’s cooking and how food was rationed and expensive. But her mother had always done her best to make sure her family were looked after ‘if we suffered dietetically, as no doubt we did , we never knew it, and I cannot recall any real hunger pangs, even in the worst days of war’ (23). She had no fear of the bombs being dropped or the heavy gunfire bur she does remember the panic in others, f ‘Hilda’s elder sister, sat taut with a white frightened face’ (24).

 

With no real understanding of the seriousness of war it had no psychological impact on her as a child. Her home life during the war was not a time of sadness. Nor does she mention her mother or any of the other women showing any great signs of despair. The war had a greater impact on her father and brother.  Her father tried to talk to their neighbour; he showed compassion and a lot of sympathy to the soldier. It was at special occasions that the real impact of war had on families, occasions underlined family gaps and griefs, pain became present. Her father a man of strong emotions was broken. She remembers being puzzled as a child walking in on her father with ‘tears streaming down his cheeks’ (44) listening to the old wartime marching-song.

 

Woman working in factories, preparing war weapons
Woman working in factories, preparing war weapons

 

 

Her brother held a lot of darker memories which he put to paper. One of his recollections illustrates one of the great social changes brought by the war ‘the munitions woman’ (25). He also wrote about the disastrous effects war had on his soldier neighbour.  Affected by shell -shock ‘we would see him walking shakily down the garden from his him in the downstairs fault where he hid for most of the day’ (25). Their neighbour was sent back and never returned. There was no medical understanding of shell-shock cases, people gossiped as they were not educated about the psychological effects war has on those on the front line.war time

Kathleen remembers the end of the First World War not for the peace celebrations but that at long last she was allowed a tabby cat. She was an adult when the Second World War came about. Betterton loathed fascism, she was appalled by Hitler, she was outraged by his behaviour and agreed with stopping him, but she had grown up ‘believing that modern war was the ultimate horror’ (264). She remembers how during the Second World War her father would walk home from the ‘Londonderry Air’, he was grieving for the loss of his brother and friends. However her portrayal of the Second World War is not detailed, she hardly mentions it. Kathleen as mentioned in the above was not a believer is war, she was a socialist. I think that her strong anti-war beliefs are the reason why she did not dedicate much of memoir into discussing this time.

 

 

 

Betterton. K. (1975)’ White Pinnies, Black Aprons….. ‘Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library: Special Collection. 2:71

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