Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Home & Family [Part 2] – Writing Lives

Jack McQuoid (1910-1985): Home & Family [Part 2]

Jack McQuoid’s lengthy memoir of 343 pages is too long to contain all of his home and family experiences into one post. Therefore, I have decided to break it up over a two part blog.

Jack writes with amazing detail with regard to his childhood experiences.

His first recollection was of playing outside with friends, ‘…after tea they took me out to help them trundle a big wooden hoop along the pavement.'(11) I find it fascinating that Jack experiences his early days of life in a world that was only first encountering the evolution of technological advancements.

Bowling bicycle rim hoops, 1922

He even comments on this in his own writing: ‘Little did I know then that my little world of gas-lighted bedrooms, a kitchen with a blazing coal fire where we ate our meals…would someday become a world of aeroplanes, motor cars, and other strange inventions then unknown.'(11) Jack’s writing is influenced from his later experiences in life as he compares his naivety as a child to a world that would soon greatly evolve. ‘For some children the physical environment of the home left an indelible, photographic image as the place where consciousness first dawned’ (Burnett, 1982, 223). Jack’s home environment allowed him to appreciate the simple things in life in the ever-changing world that he was brought up in.

Jack reflects in his writing of his first home before moving to Benton. ‘As a child born of Ulster parents in West Derby, I could not be expected so to realise that I was looking out from such a peak. Ahead and below me were the Edwardian Alice-in Wonderland mists that screened the future from us all – young and old alike.'(12) Jack comments on the Edwardian era that he was born in that would soon diminish and make way for a new era that nobody could have foreseen.

When speaking of his memory of moving home and encountering delivery men, he always associates this experience with his sense of smell. Jack moves multiple times throughout his life and every time he recalls each memory, he always reverts it back to this first move. ‘I have never forgotten that pungent smell of straw and felt. Of course it has come to me again to refresh those memories on a number of occasions when we moved from one house to another’ (13).

Jack’s home life is etched into his memory through this means of mobility.

This idea of constantly moving from house to house is usually associated with instability. Jack never gives us any idea that his family life is unstable. In fact, he only commends his parents for giving him a safe and nurturing upbringing.

Jack and his family move from West Derby to Whitley Bay, East Coast, ‘Summer of 1914.'(15) This was due to Jack’s father being, ‘sent up to the Northeast to open up new territory for his firm.'(15) Jack is only three years old and already he is being immersed in an upbringing surrounded by the terror of war. ‘For me it was a world of seawaves, sandcastles, and colourful merry-grounds. Perhaps my parents were aware that great armies were massing on Europe’s frontiers. If they did they passed none of these anxieties on to me.'(15) Jack writes of his obliviousness to the impending war that was about to come. Shortly after their move to Whitley Bay they move once more to Benton.

He uses the sea in his writing as a device to describe, ‘awareness that there was a war on began to roll in slowly like mists from the sea. I remember my father began to ear the armband of a special constable.'(18) Jack does not write with a sense of fear but only of his realisation with no understanding of an awareness of what would come. Especially when first experiencing a Zeppelin attack Jack is more concerned with its association of sounding like an, ‘…aircraft I had see passing overhead in Liverpool.'(19) Jack’s parents only have their best interests for him, ‘as a result of this raid, my parents decided to look for another house further away from the coast…Corbridge.'(19)

Unidentified Zeppelin on Patrol at Sea Over SMS Seydlitz

When speaking of his mother, Jack writes with an understanding of how her social stance would be viewed by others in society today: ‘Today such people are despised among Marxists who usually live in much more comfortable and even luxurious conditions than what my mother in her life ever knew.'(25)

Jack reflects on his mother at the time of his writing.
‘When a child first becomes conscious of himself, the way of life of his parents and companions will appear both natural and inevitable, but as he grows older and gains some knowledge, however incomplete, of other forms of existence, so he will begin to comprehend the peculiarity of his situation.'(Vincent, 1981, 90) Jack combines both his view of his parents during childhood to that of his views whilst writing his memoir. This gives his readers an understanding of how his views have developed or how he has gained more of an insight when reflecting on memories.

At only seven years old already Jack was experiencing the difficulty of food rationing in England. ‘The vegetables my father grew in the garden helped our rationing problems no and, and we had direct access to good farm produce.'(47) Jack’s parents once again protect him from the plight of suffering like many others had done in society at this current time.

WW1 rationing food poster “Yes – if you eat less bread” [created by L. Shields and published by Ministry of Food, poster no.17]

Shortly afterwards in 1917 Jack’s mother Eleanor Beatty gives birth to his brother Frank. They named him in tribute to Jack’s fathers’ half sister Frances Close as she, ‘had died of T.B. in the early years of the war.'(48) Humorously Jack’s first recollection of meeting his brother was to only exclaim, ‘He looks like a lobster, Daddy!'(49)

Once again Jack and his family move home, ‘after my brother was born we took a trip back to Ireland.(53) Jack’s father was soon to be called ‘up for conscription'(53) and his father wanted them to ‘be at home among relatives if anything were to happen to him.'(53)

Throughout these first few years of Jack’s life he has already experienced so much by living in 4 different homes. He is more cultured than other children were his age through this experience and potentially could be the reason for his desire to immigrate to America in later years.

An admiration has to be shown towards Jack’s parents who go above and beyond to shelter him from the harsh realities of war.


McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4

Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the1820s to the 1920s. London:  Alan Lane, 1982.

Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working-Class Autobiography. London: Methuen, 1981.

NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.

Proof read by Beti and Zoe – click to read their blog posts.

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