The second volume of Woodruff’s memoirs starts with his arrival in the East
End of London in the early 1930s. He finds lodgings with a Cockney family in
Stratford, where he shares a single bed (head to toe) with a stonebreaker.
He thinks himself lucky to get a job at an iron foundry until he faces the
gruelling, back-breaking work. But William is indomitable. To find his old
sweetheart, he one day cycles to Berkhamstead. She’s not there and he
returns in a snowstorm – it takes him eight hours to reach friends in the
west of London and then, after three hours sleep, another four to get to
work on time.
Eventually he joins a night school to ‘get some learnin’; his first white
collar job starts for the water board in S( Brettenham House! His studies
finally take him to the Catholic Workers College (which is now Plater
How the foundry worker became a scholar, how war interrupted his studies –
and William’s concluding description of returning from war to meet the son
he’s never seen – is a deeply moving story.