It was all a long time ago and I don't really remember the details. In fact, it's all so complicated and so different from my life now that I sometimes doubt my own recollections. But when I read about the times I see my life there, so I know that I am right.
I left school when I was twelve. Now, of course, this seems unlikely, but it was common enough in those days. We weren't rich, my family--we lived the twelve of us in one room, next door to a whole family that was tubercular. I wasn't allowed to play with the children in case I got ill which meant I either had to put up with my brothers and sisters--and I was the oldest--or be lonely.
So just before I was thirteen, I went to work as a kitchen maid in one of those big houses. The pay was terrible and it was hard work but at least I could get away from my family and my mother could pay for some food!
I worked there for almost two years. During this time, when I reached my fourteenth year, I joined the suffragettes though my mother pleaded with me to 'stay out of all that trouble'. Generally I did, but after about six months I was arrested during a protest and went on hunger strike. They were cruel to strikers and we were force-fed through tubes, but I survived. A month or two later war broke out and our protests relaxed, much to my mother's relief.
The family I worked for refused to employ me once they discovered my involvement with the suffragettes. I was jobless once more, but it would not be for long. I was now fifteen years old.
I joined my two younger sisters in knitting and making clothes for troops. The two girls were aged eleven and thirteen--the others, of course, were far too young to join us. We sewed for hours and at first it felt useful, like it was the right thing to do, but we needed more money to live. Besides, I could do more. I knew I could.
I joined a march, trying to persuade the government to let us contribute to the war effort and support our families at the same time. It worked--just two weeks or so later I found myself working in a munitions factory, making shells for hours and hours every day. The fumes were disgusting. After a year my skin was yellow, and in any other circumstance this would have earned me strange looks, but civilians were used to the sight of women with yellow skin walking around, and many of them saluted us for our efforts.
Not everyone was quite so appreciative.
*to be continued in next chapter!*