Memories of Childhood
This is a lovely memoir about growing up outside of London during World War I. The author, Phyllis Yvonne Betts, born in 1909, was five years old when the great war broke out, and this is the period she writes about. Seen through the eyes of a child, life in a middle-class family is told with humor, a child’s honest observation, and filled with the homely details that make a story come to life. It was a dangerous time before the discovery of antibiotics and children were often sent away when a family member came down with illnesses we don’t have to worry about these days. The dreaded Dr. Biggs would arrive at the house with his scruffy black bag, take a temperature, listen to the heart, and usually prescribe the same un-salacious tonic for all illnesses, with instructions to keep the “bow’els” (as he pronounced it) open.
Phyllis’s mother was from a rich and snobbish family, full of pretensions, a home a child dreaded having to visit, a home filled with confusing social rules and customs. Her father’s family in contrast were warm and down-to-earth people where comfort food was always on offer. Her descriptions of these households and occupants are wonderful.
Betts’ understanding of war was limited, but she knew people who say goodbye often never returned home unless in the funeral parades given for fallen soldiers. I loved her description of the several schools she attended, where little was taught, yet she managed a complete education. Most of all I enjoyed reading of all the bits and pieces of everyday life, often mystifying to a child, during a difficult period of history. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy social history filled with sharp insights and humor.