Thomas Waddicor (b.1906): War and Memory


Coal Famine, World War 1
Coal Famine, World War 1

Thomas Waddicor lives through both World War 1 and World War 2. His experience of World War 1 is nothing more than his two elder brothers going away and serving their country. Thomas is more involved in World War 2 as he has a more active role in this; something I will discuss in this post. Thomas’s typically nonchalant attitude towards everything is not different when it comes to the war. The First World War is brought up mostly in passing and it is never the main point he is making. He also never offers his personal opinions towards wartime memories. Mostly he makes light of his wartime memories which may have been interpreted differently by others. Just as he recalls many other memories, Thomas does not seem to express many feelings and does not seem to care about the event. As a reader we infer, sometimes incorrectly, what his feelings may be and how he must have reacted as he does not reveal this himself. As his descriptions are quite ambiguous, there is room for discussion as to what he actually meant. Wartime recollections don’t dominate the memoir to begin with and it isn’t something which Thomas speaks a great deal about. It seems to be working in the background of many of his recollections.

Thomas does not really seem affected by the war. His life does not change drastically after his brothers were serving in the war and not even when he goes himself. Thomas doesn’t give up a great deal of information on his experience whilst in war and this is something which may have not fitted in with his agenda – his inferred agenda being that he wishes to share his experience of being poor and then working his way up. Serving in the war wasn’t anything he wished to dwell on as it wasn’t his main aim. His memoir is almost like a diary of events which may be why he does not go into much detail.

Something which is mentioned in my Life and Labour post is the fact that losing two breadwinners to the war was causing financial difficulty for the Waddicor family: ‘with two older brothers away in the Army…mother was finding it more than usually difficult to make ends meet’ (pg. 4). Thomas has to consequently work every hour. When ‘Brother Alfred came home on leave from France. He had a bullet wound in his arm. ‘(pg. 4). Thomas does not say anything else about his brother, instead he goes on to speaks about the wireless that interests him, again not revealing his inner feelings or thoughts.


During the war, coal was very scarce which was ‘caused by the lack of labour available; many miners had volunteered to serve in the forces.’ This meant that there was not enough workers in the mines. This is explained in more detail on the Black Country Living Museum website. Thomas does not comprehend the fact that this is a large problem, he speaks about it innocently saying that mother was ‘among the favoured few to be allowed a small bag of coal (during the war) when coal was, for some extra special reason, extra scarce’ (pg. 6)

With the fear of World War 2 looming, Thomas takes many precautions such as digging up a shelter in his backyard and building a hen house: ‘In 1940, responding to the war-time call to produce some of our own food…’ (pg. 40). He covers the topic very humorously speaking about chasing hens and digging a hole in his garden as a shelter which was ‘far less than three feet in depth’ (pg. 42). Consequently, Thomas gets a shelter built by a builder: ‘I had a shelter built for us under a room in the house – this time by a builder. This didn’t make my back ache so much…’ (Pg. 42).

Once the war is over Thomas reveals that as a community they all came together and this period of uncertainty was something they were looking to leave behind: ‘Quite a long time after the First World War was over, Manchester Corporation celebrated the end of hostilities by decorating an open-topped tram – known as the ‘peace car’.’ (Pg. 14)


Works cited

Burnett, John. Autobiographies of Childhood, Education and Family from 1820s to the 1920s, 1982.

Constantine, Stephen. Unemployment in Britain Between the Wars, Essex: Longman Group Ltd, 1980

David Vincent, Bread, Knowledge and Freedom. 1982

Davies, Andrew. Leisure, Gender and Poverty, Buckingham: Open University Press, 1993.

Eric, Hopkins. Childhood Transformed: Working class children in nineteenth century England. Manchester University Press, 1994.

Hedrick, Harry. Children, Childhood and English Society 1990-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997

Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363

Griffen-Foley, Bridget. From Tit-Bits to Big Brother: a century of audience participation in the media, Macquarie University, Australia. P533-4

Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers. Gender and Fatherhood in the nineteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007

Marjorie Cruickshank, Children and industry, Manchester 1981.

Mike Savage and Andrew Miles, The Remaking of the British Working Class 1840-1940. Routledge London, 1994.

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 53. 1 (1992): 47-70

Ross, Ellen. Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London, 1870-1918. Oxford 1993, 152-3

Thompson, Paul. The Edwardians: the Remaking of British Society. St Albans, 1977.

Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247.

Waddicor, Thomas. ’Memories of Hightown and Beyond’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:787, (2016). Coal Shortages – Black Country Living Museum. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2016]., (2016). [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan. 2016].


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.