Pat O’Mara lived to tell the tale of his experiences during WWI. It’s during this time that Pat describes Liverpool as a place that seems almost unrecognisable as the violence, poverty and the lasting effects of the war impacts himself, his friends and his family as he hears news of the ‘killed wounded and missing’ (O’Mara 138). The tragedy of the war is close to home for Pat as he writes about his friends who set sail on the Lusitania ship. It was a ship Pat describes as ‘so strong, so beautiful and so amazing’ (O’Mara 141). Pat had a fascination for ships and going out to sea and it was something that he enjoyed writing about. But for Pat, the Lusitania was ‘not for your sailor man’ (O’Mara 141), so Pat heads out to look for a smaller boat to head to sea in, whilst leaving his two friends aboard the ship – a memory so clear in Pat’s writing that I felt his guilt for abandoning his friends.
Britain was illegally blocking Germany’s ports at the time and as a retaliation, German commanders were ordered to attack any British vessel they could find – even unarmed merchant ships. When the Lusitania was bombed by the Germans, America had not yet joined the war which becomes an important detail in Pat’s autobiography as once America takes action, Pat heads to New York and remembers how ‘jobs were very plentiful then, for America had just declared war.’ (O’Mara 175). It’s an important moment in Pat’s life when he first lands in America as it was an opportunity for Pat to start a new life and leave Liverpool. He refers to America as ‘God’s Country’ (O’Mara 181) because of the opportunities and money the war had brought. It’s during this point in Pat’s autobiography that I began to question whether Pat was dissociating himself from Liverpool, as he seems to want to abandon his old life and forget his past. Though, this doesn’t surprise me as Pat was living in poverty, his father was an alcoholic and for Britain, there was little hope…
When Pat is home from America, he recalls an honest account of the violence and crimes taking place in Liverpool when the Lusitania riots came, followed by the police strike. It’s during the Lusitania riots that we see Pat’s anger towards the German’s for the death of his friends whilst people were destroying their city and ‘everything suggestive of Germany was being smashed to pieces’ (O’Mara, 164). It’s clear that the sinking of the Lusitania not only impacted Pat, but the people of Liverpool as it was ‘accounting for one of the largest losses of civilian life during a single act of war’ (Gullace 2005). Pat provides a detailed account of Liverpool during this time which becomes one of the most important events in its history, as he recalls the impact it had on his community.
Shortly after the Lusitania riots, came the police strike which was another significant event in Pat’s life. He recalls how the police were bitter ‘for theirs were the only wages that hadn’t skyrocketed with the war’ (O’Mara, 168). Liverpool during 1919 seemed to be fuelled by anger which was in direct relation to the war. It shows the disruption the war caused for Pat’s community when he refers to the injustice going on in Britain. Pat writes about how Liverpool was destroying the community whilst there was no real authority to stop people from committing crimes. Windows were being smashed and shops were being robbed. Pat compares this to the Lusitania riots, only, ‘it was much more intense, since now there was no restraining hand at all.’ (O’Mara 169) It comes to no surprise that Pat took the police riots as an opportunity to earn some money when he steals some muffs from a shop and finds a ‘new-found spirit of self-indulgence’ (O’Mara p168). I sympathised with Pat’s involvement in committing a crime because it shows his fight for survival during the war and although Pat didn’t need to confess to stealing, I can see through his actions that it was out of desperation to provide for his family, whilst Britain ‘became a land of lost illusions’ (Simmonds 2011).
Pat provides a representation of many other working-class families during this time as he paints a picture of Liverpool which is so different from what we know today. The publication of Pat’s autobiography is enough evidence to suggest that despite the suffering and tragedy he experienced growing up, he uses these experiences to write an account of one of the most important events in Liverpool’s history and for that, I thank Pat as I have learned an important historic moment through the eyes of a notable working-class writer.
You can check out Emma Sellars’ blog on Fermin Rocker who shares a similar experience to Pat during this period.
Gullace, Nicoletta F. “Friends, Aliens, and Enemies: Fictive Communities and the Lusitania Riots of 1915.” Journal of Social History, vol. 39, no. 2, 2005, p347. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3790772. Accessed 20 May 2020.
O’Mara, Pat. The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy. The Bluecoat Press. 1997
Simmonds, Alan G. V. Britain and World War One, Taylor & Francis Group, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,Web: . p162 Accessed: 3/05/2020
Image 1,2&3: O’Mara, Pat. The Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy. The Bluecoat Press. 1997
Image 4: Simmonds, Alan G. V. Britain and World War One, Taylor & Francis Group, 2011. P164.