Joe Ayre (b.1910) Biographical Entry – Writing Lives

Joe Ayre (b.1910) Biographical Entry

2:29 AYRE, Joe, ‘The Socialist’, MS, pp.178 (c.43,250 words). BruneI University Library.


Born 9 March 1910 in Liverpool. Father a dock labourer. 4th son. 4 sisters. Mother died of consumption in 1918. Attended St. Emmanuel’s Church School (from age 6) and Sunday School. Regularly played truant. Ran away from home with a brother in 1919, living on what could be begged or stolen. Sent to a Home for Fatherless and Destitute Children in 1920, where he remained for 3 years. Married, 1939, with 1 son and 1 daughter. Sent to Canada in 1923; returned to Liverpool in 1936 and later lived in Grimsby, London, Northolt, and Harrow. Living in Canada in 1985.


Helped to run a market stall with his brother on Saturdays (1919); hawked firewood from door to door; worked in Canada as a farm boy, in an assembly plant, for a coal and wood merchant, and as a merchant seaman; in England (from 1936) as a farm labourer and welder; called up to join the Merchant Navy Reserve Pool during World War II.


Member of the Band of Hope; active in the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement; member of the National Union of Agricultural Workers.


The opening section sets the author’s childhood experiences of hardship and struggle in the context of post-war disillusionment, unemployment and industrial confrontation. Highly interesting comments are provided on the impact of World War I; rationing; anti-Chinese feeling; the home; pawnbroking; schooling; dress; the Shop Stewards’ movement, victimisation and the Tom Mann Fund; evictions; slum housing; the police strike of 1919; relationship with stepmother (‘cold hostility’); charity. A particularly good account is given of his time in a Children’s Home (discipline, diet, routine), where he was prepared for emigration to the Colonies to provide farmers with cheap labour. The next section deals with his life as an immigrant in Canada from 1923, with detail of his experiences as a farm labourer and hobo during the Depression, riding the freight trains. He returned to England in 1936, becoming actively involved in the NUWM and later working as a farm labourer and welder. The memoirs conclude with stories of sailing with Merchant Navy convoys during World War II.

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