Monday, 14 May 2007

Being Blonde

This is posted by special request of one who doubts my blondness! This is me with my maternal grandfather in 1939, in the garden of 32, Burnell Avenue, Welling, Kent.


billo said...

Fantastic photo! Is that mud on the right? Why does your grandfather look so tired?

Celia said...

Dunno about the mud! But the reason my grandfather looks so tired is this: having survived WWI, he returned to UK to endure unemployment and hard times. He was a Glaswegian from a large working class family from the Gorbals, working on the Clyde ships - a unrelentingly hard and impoverished life. In this background, like many of his co-workers - he was radicalised and became a member of the Communist Party. All his life he worked as a volunteer for the Trades Union Movement. In 1914 he was drafted and sent down to Kent to be trained up to go to The Great War. He met and married my grandmother, in service as a maid in a big house since age 14 - they were both 21.
My mother was born in 1915 when he was serving abroad. (I don't know enough about his war service to give details - I ought to do some research.)He didn't get back until 1920, having been sent to Mesopotamia, so my mother was five before he saw her.

So, in 1939, my grandfather was still only 46. Leaving aside his war experience, his post-war was unrelentingly hard: first, unemployment, then working (I think) as a garden labourer for the local Council. Life with my grandmother can't have been idyllic, either! She'd had a hard time during the war as well,sacked from her job because of her pregnancy and forced to ask for support from her own family who, themselves, barely scratched a living. But more than that, I believe her own upbringing and family poverty had embittered her. She was always fiery and angry and I have reason to believe my mother's assertions that she herself was subjected to cruelty. None of this was helped by the fact that five years after his return from the War, my grandmother gave birth to a baby boy who was terribly deformed and died when a few months old.

Altogether, I'd say my maternal grandparents' experience was fairly typical for the generation of poor, working people who survived it. My grandfather's weary, defeated expression says it all. He died of lung cancer in 1949, aged 56. What a life.

I'm ashamed to say that I've done so little research on my grandparents - this is a superficial, and almost certainly erroneous, account based on what I gleaned from my grandmother and my mother. There are many more facets to this story, did I but know them. I'm looking, now, at the Trades Union Congress diploma awarded to my grandfather in 1938 for 'organising services in securing 40 new members' hanging on the wall in my room. So the year before I was born he was in regular employment and still active in the Trades Union Movement. After he died, my grandmother never cancelled delivery of The Morning Star, so while I stayed with her that was what I read!

Celia said...

P.S. 1938 - the year AFTER I was born!