Winifred Till: War and Memory

derek and winifred

Winifred only makes reference to the war twice throughout her memoir, and both times she gives very little information about her experience of the war. This is something I found odd when I first considered that Winifred is a woman who lived through two World Wars, yet she mentions either of them very little in her recollections of  her early life experiences. So why did Winifred leave out any mention of her war experience? One reason as to why Winifred has omitted her experience of the wars may be that her core purpose is educating her grandchildren about childhood in the Edwardian period and how, despite common belief, it was a great time for many children to grow in.

Winifred does however mention what the Great War did for her, and many other women:

‘The emancipation of women made little progress until the first World War, when women were able to prove that they could fill and succeed at jobs hitherto exclusive to men. I myself took over a male clerk’s job with a large building merchant. The man whose place I took did not return from the war so I was kept on’ (p24).

This quotation from Winifred’s memoir highlights how new opportunities were made available for women throughout the war, and even gave Winifred the opportunity to work in a job previously done by a man. This quotation does however give some indication of the sense of loss Britain felt during the war period in a very subtle way. Winifred was only able to keep her job as a builder’s clerk due to the man whose place she took never returning from the war. Winifred provides us as readers with this information, highlighting that the great loss of the war affected not just Britain but her also.

The only other reference to the war that Winifred makes throughout her memoire is as follows: ‘Edward the Peace-maker was still on the throne but after his death in 1910 the rumblings of war could be heard in the distance but so far away that we were blissfully unaware of the holocaust to come’ (p38). Winifred highlights here how her life was so blissfully peaceful before the war, a time she chooses to focus on in her memoire, a childhood unmarred by hardship and war.

Due to Winifred’s long life span seeing her living through two World Wars I decided to do some research into her life and managed to find the email address of her son, Derek Till. Derek is now 93 years old himself and living in the USA. Derek gave me some information about his mother’s life throughout the war, and details surrounding his father’s and mother’s young romance.

‘My future father was called up on the day war was declared in 1914 and was soon to be in France. His Letters made clear their intention to marry’. During WWII, living in Woking, Surrey, they (Winifred and her husband, Derek’s father) became very active in Civil Defence. ‘In Dad’s butchers shop, with the staff called up, mother helped with the complications of rationing and became quite skilled at cutting meat’ – Derek Till on the life of his mother and father during the World Wars.

Derek also added, ‘Apart from her eyesight, she had all her marbles when she dies aged 97’. Derek’s comments on his mother’s adult life provide us with the information that she lived a long, industrious and varied life, making her memoir written in the 1970s an even more valuable piece of literature. Winifred’s vast experience of living through two wars, being one of the pioneering generations of women who work in the professional sector, and her childhood growing up in Edwardian London make her memoir extremely valuable to the current and next generations for the purpose of learning about our past in British working class culture.



2-0763- TillW. ‘The Early Years of a Victorian Grandmother’, TS, pp.39(c.13,000 words). Brunel University Library


Thank you to Derek Till for providing me with this information about his mother’s life during both world wars and providing me with the images in this post.


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