‘After twenty years of uneasy peace it was all to begin again, begun by the same nation who had supposedly been the losers’ (50).
As mentioned in my previous post War and Memory, Charles dedicates a great portion of his memoir to discussing his memories of WWI and WWII. Growing up during WWI and serving in WWII as a member of the L.D.V. and the R.A.F, it is easy to say that Charles experiences war in a variety of ways. Often comparing the two wars, Charles gives his most truthful opinion: ‘We were told that this was the war to end all wars and ours would be a land fit for heroes to live in…that war was never finished until 1945’ (50). Referring to WWII by underlining ‘that war’, Charles expresses and emphasises his frustration about the war, a simple and yet powerful message!
Charles continues to reflect on the two wars and how they affected two different generations. ‘In the second conflict it was the turn of the next generation, the children of those on both sides who had suffered the first… ‘I can only speak first hand of the R.A.F. I was one of the lucky ones’ (50-51). This generation Charles speaks of is his own generation, as Charles was a child during WWI, he acknowledges that it is his generation who will be expected to fight.
‘The year was now 1938…Hitler had come to power in Germany…I shall never forget that first Sunday morning…11:00am, Chamberlain’s voice came over the radio…we were at war…It was a sad moment. I thought very deeply. Here was I, a young man of almost 33 years, settled and matured’ (77-79).
At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, Charles is the age of 32, by which time he was ‘settled and matured’ with a stable job, marriage and a child. Charles makes it apparent that the outbreak was an unnerving time for men. This is similar to Joe Ayre, who also worried for the future of himself and his family when WWII began. It is apparent to me that there is an increase in age and maturity in Charles when recounting his experience with WWII: ‘The first war could be described as a patriotic war…I remember it vividly as a child. 1939 was a time of sobriety and dread’ (78). Charles’ comments on the morale in Britain during both wars, remembering WWI as ‘patriotic’, it emphasises the fear people had for another war so soon after.
Charles’s aptitude for Reading and Writing is seen again when he admits to reading Hitler’s autobiography: ‘I read Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ before he became a menace, so I knew something of his aims, as did many others’ (77). In reading Mein Kampf, perhaps Charles anticipated the war.
Charles reflects on home life during WWII, ‘Gas masks were issued “just in case” … we were advised that on hearing the warning siren; the best thing to do was to descend to the cellar’ (78-79). Recounting the lifestyle families had during WWII, it gives us an important insight when looking further into the effects that war had in the family home. ‘We were very lucky in our area throughout the war’ (80), deepening this insight, Charles explores the positives of living in a more rural area like Sutton-in-Ashfield during the war!
In the early years of the war, Charles volunteers in the L.D.V, known as the Local Defence Volunteers. ‘It was midsummer, and I did my first patrols wearing a soft slouch hat and a mac. We were known as the L.D.V, later to become the Home Guard’ (82). Although he does not specify why he joins the L.D.V. Charles goes into detail about what his job entailed ‘We were empowered to stop any vehicle if we saw fit to…We had time to get on to the rifle range, and at least learn to hit a target’ (82). Charles doing his bit for the community by joining the L.D.V. in the beginning indicates that despite his feelings towards the war, Charles still feels obliged to help in the war effort. ‘The L.D.V. consisted of men roughly between the ages of 18 to 60… I was rather proud of being a member and admired my comrades for their spirit of determination and fearlessness…Morale was excellent’ (83).
This morale continued within Charles as he decided to join the R.A.F and serve his country in the war. ‘I reported to the Ministry of Labour…I also had a brother in the Air Force and I felt it was my duty to join them, though I did not want to leave my wife and child’ (86). This bold and patriotic move from Charles embarked him on a phenomenal journey in WWII and saw him become a driver for the Air Force after six months of service and training! ‘I had now completely six month’s service and was a fully fledged airman in my trade of driver…I was posted to bomber command in Lincolnshire’ (94). Sadly, Charles also experiences loss during his service in the Air Force, ‘I remember in detail, two crashes…. I knew one of the men very well…I remember saying “Poor devils” as we watched them on the way down’ (99). By Charles witnessing two plane crashes and one of his friends dying, it resonates the devastation and loss within war, a painful and touching memory for Charles.
Soon after this recollection, Charles reveals his tour of India he had with the Air Force! ‘We were bound for the Far East…We flew to Central India to join a glider squadron’ (102), an interesting journey for Charles as he experiences Indian culture during his tour there, ‘Every country has its beauties’ (103). Charles soon travelled to Poona where he remained for the rest of his tour. ‘We received orders to proceed to Poona…We were on the road for eight days, driving from sunrise to sunset… Though we had to ‘rough it’, it was a very interesting experience’ (106). Recounting his interesting experience, Charles reveals the night time adventures when travelling to Poona! ‘At night, before dark fell, we ran off road, formed the wagons into a circle…and made a fire in the centre. This was to keep away the wild animals’ (106). Keeping away the wild animals, I am assured that Charles felt a million miles from his home town in Nottinghamshire when serving his time in India. There certainly aren’t any tigers in Sutton-in-Ashfield!
Charles’s tour in India and his time in the R.A.F. soon came to an end in April 1946: ‘My group set sail from Bombay on April 7th. I arrived home on the 24th…I had been away almost four years…thankful to be together again, and grateful that I suffered no ill’ (110). Finally reunited with his wife and daughter, normal life resumed for Charles and his family and together they lived on happily. ‘We spent many more years happily together’ (110), a beautiful and peaceful resolution to the war and memory in Charles’ life.
‘I am proud to be an Englishman’ (83)
Sanderson, Charles Whiten. ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 688.
688 SANDERSON, Charles Whiten, ‘Half a Lifetime in the 20th Century: A Book of Memoirs’, TS, pp.115 (c.78,000 words). Extracts published in Mansfield and North Nottinghamshire Chronicle Advertiser (Chad), 13 March – 31 July 1980 (Sutton-in-Ashfield Library). Brunel University Library.
‘Mary Howitt’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 1:355
Purdue, A.W. The Second World War. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
2:29 AYRE, Joe, ‘The Socialist’, MS, pp.178 (c.43,250 words). Brunel University Library.
Beighton, Luke. ‘Joe Ayre (b.1910): War and Memory’. 24 April 2018. Writing Lives. Web Accessed 25 April 2018.
‘SE5a in First World War Dogfight’ By . . . Web Accessed 25 April 2018.
‘Home Guard’ Epsom and Ewell History Explorer. . Web Accessed 25 April 2018.