Phyllis L. Buss (1902): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Phyllis L. Buss (1902): An Introduction

“It was on a Monday wash day somewhere during the hours between dinner-time and early teatime, that I came, or was brought, into the world.” (p.1)

The memoir I have chosen, entitled ‘A.Driver became A.Buss’ by Phyllis L. Buss (formally Phyllis L. Driver) born 1902, is a type-written, approximately 8,000 word piece. It caught my attention purely for the interesting word play of the title. It is a retrospective piece where she is recollecting her life story, mainly that of her childhood, from the English county of Northamptonshire.

Northampton 1900s

(Northampton town 1900s)

The main focus of the memoir surrounds her childhood, Phyllis sats little about her progress from childhood to adolescence, marriage and having a family.  She writes in detail about a number of specific events from when she was younger, especially small occurrences that seemed important to her maturing and eventually settling down with her husband, Percy Buss (hence the title of the memoir!). She describes minor incidents which occurred such as playing truant from school, running errands for the elderly, attending St Giles Sunday school, causing mischief with her brothers and going to church, always keeping the tone light-hearted and fun. Although these seem like inconsequential events, they were clearly important to her because they evoked her childhood. She looks back in hindsight and questions her naive, childish attitudes from an adult perspective; a style of writing that makes it seem as though she is writing for a specific audience, maybe that of a younger generation, so that they could learn from her mistakes.

Phyllis speaks highly of her family; her wise Grandmother, her hard working mother and her father who was employed within the fire department. She evidently believed her father’s career to be fascinating and an extremely important role within her community, as she describes ‘what fun it was to watch the Brigades do their weekly drills’ (p.1) and how it was a ‘privilege to be tenants in one of the three houses a few spaces from the Fire station’ (p.1) on Dychurch Lane, Northampton. It seems her childhood was shaped around the fact that her father was a member of the Fire Brigade. She remembers how ‘these early years were very happy’ and she and her brothers and sisters ‘seemed to get pleasures that lot of children did not’ (p.2).

From the perspective of adulthood, Phyllis recognised the benefits and privileges she had enjoyed as the daughter of a man employed by the Fire services, a highly skilled and valued working-class occupation. She remembers how ‘on Quarter Days firemen received their wages for attendances to Fire and pay packets enlarged accordingly’ (p.1). However, she writes that her ‘childish thoughts did not consider damage or even death’ (p.2) and regrets that her greedy attitude towards hoping for a major fire so that they would receive a larger pay check may have been selfish and unkind.

Inside Fire Station

(Inside Dychurch Lane fire station, approx 1897)

As the only female child with six male siblings, she describes how she was ‘so often called a Tom-Boy’ (p.2), suggesting that she was given quite alot of freedom as a girl, she recalls playing outside games with her brothers and other children in the street that she lived. She reveals, quite matter-of-factly, the death of her younger sister, baby Nancy. This will be an aspect researched upon further in the Family and Home blog post as it will be interesting to find out  how the baby had died, still a common occurrence during those times.

Phyllis’s hard working nature is expressed as she discusses her many jobs as she was growing up from picking up medicines and running errands as a child, caring for her sick mother whilst she was still at school, to numerous paid jobs such as a seamstress, delivering telegrams and as a leather handbag and wallet maker. She also took part in many extracurricular activities such as joining a singing group and learning Morse code with the Post Office. This is researched into more detail in the Working Life blog post.

Phyllis’s constant play on words and use of clichés throughout the memoir is an aspect of her writing style that is really interesting for her class. The techniques may have been a result of her education as a child or she could have adopted from reading books and various people she encountered. The memoir notes many places and dates that are useful in researching Phyllis’s life, especially her background as a child, the area she grew up in and national events that affected her life, such as World War One. She makes it clear that her maiden name was ‘Driver’, her married name was ‘Buss’, and gives specific road and company that help place her whereabouts, from her childhood, to her marital home, to places where her daughters moved on to when growing up.


Image 1, Northampton Town:

Image 2, Fire Station:



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