t’s not every day we get a first-hand account of what it was like to be a youngster in 1930s England. But author Gordon Andrews shows us exactly that – and beautifully too. His Thurrock is a nicer, gentler place than researchers would have us believe us today, thanks to de-industrialization and high unemployment. Sitting 25 miles east of London on the north bank of the Thames, Thurrock is far enough away from the capital to be considered country but has its excitements nonetheless (many manufactured by Andrews and his friends).
Real life (ie the politics and economics of the time) don’t play a big role in this drama but there’s a generational perspective. This was an age where children were ‘seen and not heard’ but had far more freedom than those who came after them.
This is a funny tale of a group of young men running around causing mischief rather than terror. Their high jinks consists of such pranks as getting a wireless to work using a quartz crystal, piece of wire, battery and some lead acid accumulators – and charged unknowingly to the local bicycle shop.
As the author so eloquently puts it in his own words: “Here is a story of childhood adventures, of young people roaming the countryside with little hindrance, yet adhering strictly to the lore of the countryside. Shutting gates so cattle couldn’t escape, keeping under the hedges rather than ruining crops or pastures by small boots, treating their elders with respect and civility and yet stretching the bounds of the established rules to the point of breaking.”
Historians will love the detail in this novel. For instance, television wasn’t available so youngsters were left to their own imaginations. They created adventures, many of which are outlined hilariously in this book. Much of their time was spent outdoors and obesity was unheard of, despite three meals a day and the author’s mouth watering descriptions of his favourite puddings – golden syrup tart, plum duff, date pudding and rice with syrup.
Readers may also be interested to learn of the single sex schooling at the time – for co-education hadn’t been universally introduced into the public sector. Boys, says the author, had matters other than romance on their minds in their teens.
The depictions of an idyllic childhood are all the more poignant when you consider that years later these young men would be off to fight in World War II – some of whom wouldn’t return and others for whom the memories of their free and fun-filled childhood was all the more precious.
‘Devils in Innocence’ will be available soon from Barny Books www.barnybooks.co.uk
About the author
Born in Thurrock, Essex on 26 February nineteen twenty-two, Gordon Andrews (aged 93) is probably one of the oldest people in the UK to have a novel published. As a young man Gordon left grammar school and began forging a career as an engineering design draughtsman. However a stint in the Royal Electrical and mechanical Engineers during WW2 saw him rise to Sergeant and then Armament Sergeant Major. The role took him to India and Burma.
On retiring from the army he worked in Property Services until a stroke forced him to leave work. As part of his recovery he began writing and hasn’t stopped to this day. Devils in Innocence is his third book. His first, Fans and Feathers, came out in 2011 and his second, The Outlanders, the following year.