Florence witnessed and lived through the effects of two world wars. Memories of war began early in Florence’s life as a child when her Father was called up in 1914 for service in France during the First World War. Florence tells us that her Father was a soldier at Aldershot and a Sergeant Major in the R.E. Although she does not remember him going, she was aware that something was wrong, as her Mother was so worried and upset without him. Florence tells us that her due to the birth of her baby brother their Father was given 24 hours leave and on returning home he sat crying saying:
“My God my own children don’t know me” (3)
During the war, Florence recalls the flu epidemic hitting the family and neighbours, with nearly every window in the street drawing their blinds due to a death in the family. Florence remembers how she and her siblings were hit with the flu and eating crackers and golden syrup, which was a real treat during wartime. Food rationing wasn’t introduced until 1918 during World War 1 and food was scarce during this time so Florence’s Father would send home parcels filled with violets for his wife and lumps of butter which Florence and her siblings were instructed to divide and deliver to neighbours with love from their Father.
Florence remembers the impact the First World War had upon her Mother and the sadness that loomed over her. Particularly, Florence recalls her Mother wearing a black dress after receiving a letter from the war office informing her that Florence’s father was missing and presumed dead. The hurt for the family continued as Florence described how a young soldier, who had been beaten and robbed, was found on the doorstep of Florence’s house and much to her Mother’s disappointment, was not their Father. Florence does tell us that all ended well for the family as one day her Father walked back through the front door of their house, very much alive and well.
Although only a child during the First World War, its effects hit Florence and her family hard. However, the bravery and admiration for her Father, a theme that Florence carries throughout her memoir, is highlighted as she recalls her Father receiving an oak leaf on his medal to display his mention in despatches.
Florence’s memories of the Second World War differed to those during the First World War as Florence was in her late 20’s during the Second World War and it had a more direct effect upon her life. Just 18 months after marrying her husband John Cooter in April 1938, war was declared. Florence tells us that she and John carried on as normal to begin with, getting their new house and garden in order until John returned home from working in an artist studio in London one day to say the firm was closing down as many places did. Florence describes how owing to his age group:
“John would be called up any day, after weeks of worry and trying to pay our mortgage and gas, electric bills and food,” (29)
However she soon reveals that John had his medical he was Grade 3 owing to a heart condition and therefore was not eligible to be called up for war. This presumably would have been a great relief for Florence, remembering how sad and worried her Mother was when her Father was absent.
181 COOTER, Florence Anne, ‘Seventh Child’, MS, pp.71 (c.71,000 words). Brunel University Library found 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)