The theme of war is only mentioned slightly throughout Edna’s memoir. Between the years of 1914 and 1918, the First World War was occurring. Edna states: ‘The First World War had to be fought and won, and the routine of school and college fill the space between.’ (Page 35). Due to her being a young adult when the First World War commenced, her only duty was to continue her life as normal as possible. She says, ‘One of the most bloody and terrible wars made little impact on the children of our family.’ (Page 35). Due to her still being young at this time, it is difficult for her to judge how her family would have reacted when the war was going on, as many adults do not tend to share these types of feelings with young children. However, many young children are oblivious to such things, and Edna may truthfully believe that she was truly happy.
Edna portrays a nostalgic tone of voice when discussing the First World War throughout her memoir. She says, ‘Everything about the war seemed fictional, spurious, compared with the reality of the ‘grind’ at school and home, for we now had twins to care and tend. I say ‘we’ because as a child of twelve, I was a useful nursemaid and help to my mother.’ (Page 35). She also conveys a pleased tone of voice when discussing her father not having to go away to fight. As discussed in my previous blog on Home and Family: Childhood Experiences, which can be found here, it is clear to readers that Edna’s favourite family member was her father. She says, ‘My father was called before military tribunals. The days of the Tribunal, when his case for exemption would be considered, were days of fear and apprehension for the family. Various physical defects and his profession invariably swung the case in his favour. He would come home smiling and exempted.’ (Page 35). She continues: ‘Our elders with the exception of my Uncle Frank (Joe’s younger brother) were never conscripted into the army. Our elders were in reserved occupations or unfit for service, the children too young to be involved.’ (Page 35). For Edna to be able to have his company through a frightening time was a blessing. She also appears to be grateful for his life, as she was aware of many men all over the country that had no choice other than to fight in the war.
Similar to this, Edna had the same experience of the Second World War as she did with the First World War. She says, ‘After eight of the happiest years of my working life (and these included a part of the Second World War) I moved to a school near home on the north side of the city. It was becoming necessary to cut out travelling time.’ (Page 65). Here, Edna is referring to the years that she spent whilst the Second World War was occurring. She is recognising that rather than suffering from the wars, she has gained a lot from them, one of these being the happiest years she has had whilst teaching.
The only real negative impact Edna and her family were faced with throughout those years were the shortages of food supplies. She says, ‘With our father safe and secure at home, the war ceased to exist for us. The discomforts of shortages, rationings and queuing’s made little impact. The terrible battles of the Somme and the Dardanelles registered themselves in an oblique way. The horror stories of atrocities perpetrated by the Hun in Belgium gave us an irrational hatred of the very word ‘German’.’ (Page 35). Due to this, Edna could attempt to continue her daily life as normal. Carol Dyhouse states in her text, ‘Signing the Pledge? Woman’s Investment in University Education and Teacher Training before 1939’: ‘The outbreak of war helped many of the women in my study to secure jobs which were vacated by men, both in teaching and elsewhere.’ (Dyhouse, page 221). The war actually helped Edna succeed in her career by many of the male teachers going off to fight in the war, the help was needed by both men and women. Dyhouse continues, ‘It is clear that grants for teacher training were a very significant source of funding for women attending university before the Second World War. In all 148, or 29.5% of my sample of women graduates, indicated that they had received support from the Board of Education or from local authorities on condition that they signed a pledge, or undertook some kind of commitment to teach for a definite period (ranging from two to five years) after graduation.’ (Dyhouse, page 217). Many women needed some sort of help with funding to become teachers if they had not been brought up by affluent families, such as Edna, who will have needed this extra help.
Regenia Gagnier states in ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’: ‘In exemplary modes like conversion and gallows narratives, the only difference between men’s and women’s narratives is that women refer far more frequently to their husbands or lovers and children (their personal relationships) and men refer more to their jobs or occupations (their social status).’ (Gagnier, page 354). This links to Mike Widdows’ blog on Thomas Raymont’s memoir which can be found here. Mike states how his male author mostly discusses the work that he has achieved in his lifetime, mostly being about the book that he wrote, The Principles of Education, and barely mentioning his family.
Bold, Edna. ‘The long and short of it. Being the recollections and reminiscences of Edna Bold’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:85, available at https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/9420
Dyhouse, Carol. ‘Signing the Pledge? Woman’s Investment in University Education and Teacher Training before 1939’. History of Education, 26. 2, 1997: 207-223.
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363.
NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.