‘Break the news to mother
Tell her how much I love her
And tell her not to wait for me
For I’m not coming home
Say there is no other
To take the place of mother
And kiss her dear sweet lips for me
For I’m not coming home’
(A ballad Winifred recalls about emigration in her memoir)
Emigration is something Winifred describes as a popular phenomenon during the early 1900s, ‘It was a time of mass emigration’ (p30). Winifred describes this mass emigration being caused by the poor working conditions in Britain and the lack of opportunity for the working classes. Emigration offered working class families the opportunity for a new start in a new land. Many of Winifred’s family, especially on her mother’s side emigrated during this period to places such as Canada and Australia, never return to England to live again. Emigration is a major theme throughout the early 20th century and is mentioned in many other working class memories’, one example of which can be found in Doris Hunt’s memoir who emigrated to Australia herself with her fiancé.
‘There must have been disappointments especially those who thought there was an easy way to make a fortune but I think on the whole they made good and had no regrets’ (p30).
This quotation from Winifred’s memoir highlights her experience of knowing people who had emigrated such as her own family members. Winifred got an insight into not only why people where emigrating but also why they never returned to England. Winifred highlights here how the working classes emigrated for new opportunities to make their fortune, to become wealthier than what is possible in England for the working class during this period. Winifred’s memoir also highlights how despite not everyone finding making their fortune in foreign lands easy, many of them never regretted their move. Winifred’s cousin ‘young Frank’, who briefly visited England during the First World War, struggled with the confined spaces of typical English homes: ‘he was like a whirlwind in the house. Being used to wide open spaces he could not settle in our small rooms’ (p30). Winifred tells us of Frank and his whirlwind nature as a way to describe the Australian living conditions as very different to those in Britain. Working class people could afford bigger homes in Australia. Australia also had more wide open spaces than the densely populated towns and cities of Britain during the early 20th century. Both of these factors will have contributed to people’s decisions in emigrating to countries half way around the world such as Australia. Winifred herself describes them as suffocating many times in her memoir, especially whilst living in London with its cramped living conditions.
As I know from my research Winifred’s future family would also experience emigration, this time in the form of her son moving to America where he is still living today. This is an important fact to consider as throughout Winifred’s lifespan, she has seen relations move across the globe for the opportunity of a better life. The fact that this is still happening today highlights that the world is still offering working class Briton’s opportunities they just are not getting at home. Dudley Baines’ book Migration in a Mature Economy gives a possible reason as to why emigration amongst Winifred’s people from Britain to oversees countries was so high throughout her lifetime:
‘The majority of emigrants may have moved from one community to another and depended on the extension of contacts between the communities. The higher the emigration, the greater the flow of information, money and returned migrants’ (Baines, 2003 p26).
Baines suggests here that people who have come from communities of high emigration, by keeping in contact with those who have emigrated, are encouraged to emigrate over time due to reports back from friends and relatives who have already made the move.
2-0763- TillW. ‘The Early Years of a Victorian Grandmother’, TS, pp.39(c.13,000 words). Brunel University Library
Baines, Dudley. Migration in a Mature Economy: Emigration and Internal Migration in England and Wales 1861-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.