Samuel Mountford (b. 1907) War and Memory (Continued)

Following on from my last blog where I talked about Samuel Mountford’s experiences with the start of the war, including the announcement, the effect and his personal memory of it, the next big impact on the British populous was the evacuations as the air-raids began:

Evacuation of children at Lime Street Station, Liverpool, 1939.
Evacuation of children at Lime Street Station, Liverpool, 1939.

“Children were rushed off to the country, ‘evacuated’ as they were called. Our two boys went to live at a village near Hereford. […] Thank you Erne, and you, Joan and Don for all that you did” (18).

Here we can see Mountford’s love for his family – a topic I have covered extensively in my blogs – and how thankful he is for the safety of his children at such a difficult and threatening time. The evacuation of all children in populated areas into the countryside was a blow of reality as the German-threat to British civilians was becoming more and more likely.

With the war becoming more intense, it was only inevitable that Mountford would be drafted into war work, however because he was still recovering from his rheumatism he was employed into craftsman duties rather than soldier work. He was drafted into Vickers Super Marine work, creating spitfires and Lancaster’s, and sometimes did not come home for four days at a time; despite this, Mountford writes highly of the work:

“I was by now well settled in to war work, but doing some very intricate and secret pipe and hydraulic work and working alone for long periods – all hush-hush but very interesting” (18).

He is very lucky, as Mountford enjoyed his work during the war and felt useful without having to put his life on the front line. Throughout his memoir, the reader can always see how Mountford attaches a lot of importance to being a contributor, starting with earning for his family at a young age, and eventually providing for his wife and kids. It is therefore naturally important to him that he contributes during the war with his craftsmanship

The most notable time of the war for Mountford personally was September 1st, 1940. On this night, the air raids were in full close contact and the account of the events, though objective in tone is very impactful:

london bomber planes
Two German bombers flying over London on the first day of the Blitz, 7 September 1940.

“Night after night air raids, always doing lots of damage, whole streets close by wiped out. Two houses a few yards away were flattened and two people killed, our own home on fire, destruction everywhere. I was in fact only ten or fifteen yards away when these two people got killed” (19). 

The charm of Samuel Mountford’s memoir is the ‘every-day-citizen’ tone he writes with, and the ordinariness of his life and his work, so therefore to hear of a close-encounter with air raids and the witnessing of death and destruction is horrifying.
This destruction raises larger issues of the war, as highlighted by G. Ashplant in his book ‘Fractured Loyalties’ (2007), where he talks about how soldiers contemplated their sense of morality during the atrocities of war:

“He also had to cope with wider knowledge of what fighting such a war involved. This included atrocities, about which he reports the conversations in which he and his fellow soldiers worked out their own moral calculus” (109).

This reinforces the concept of morality during war and how raiding villages and harmless citizens in the name of the higher powers is completely immoral. Unfortunately, the troops cannot decline their orders and the devastation continues with or without their moral questioning.
Mountford continues with further detail, talking about how they did not entirely escape the attack:

coventry german air raid
German air raid, Coventry, 1940.

“I myself lay down when I head the bomb coming and did not get a scratch. But Dora, who was trying to put out the fire at home received burns on the face and hands from incendiaries and was then rushed off to the first aid post” (19). 

This is the first instance for Mountford where the war affects his family personally. The air raids are directly responsible for his wife receiving burns, and more severely, the flattening of a house only ten yards away that killed two people. Yet, Mountford still remains even-tempered in his account of the destruction as he focuses on the help they received from the first aid post, the strength they found in one another, and how thankful he is for the neighbours that helped him and his family when they needed it. This section of the memoir appears to be about war and the air raids, but the tone focuses on hope and gratitude which is deeply heart-warming.

Mountford’s last description of dealing with the war in the memoir occurs when another son is born, and the circumstances of his birth are affected by the war:

shelter 1939
Family taking shelter, 1939.

“After continuous raids, night after night, Jerry kindly decided to have a night off. That was the night young Mountford arrived, about nine o’ clock Sunday night. We still had air raid warnings but no bombs dropped. However, soon after he was born he was well wrapped up, put into a clothes basket and taken into the air raid shelter to join his brothers” (19).

This quote is extraordinary to me because in this day and age, the concept of having a child and having to take it into an air raid shelter is incomprehensible to a modern British citizen. We have been fortunately protected and blanketed under the prospects of war, and the atrocities that occurred during the First and Second World Wars have thankfully not been repeated since.

Bibliography:

Mountford, Samuel, ‘A Memoir’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:244.

Ashplant, T.G. ‘Fractured Loyalties’ Masculinity, Class and Politics in Britain, 1900-30. London: Rivers Oram Press, 2007.

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