An autobiography written by Gilbert Brighouse, 1928 Chicago, Illinois.


An autobiography written by Gilbert Brighouse, 1928 Chicago, Illinois.


I was born on the morning of May 29, 1906 in the town of Hornsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England. My father was a chemist in the neighboring city of Hull to which he commuted daily. He came of cultural Scotch stock, his father having been a Wesleyan minister and his ancestors forming a long line of professors and professional men. My mother's antecedents were industrial; her father being a prosperous contractor.

I was the youngest of our family, having two sisters and a brother from twelve to fourteen years older than myself. My advent, it seems, was a source of great excitement and joy to my sisters, and of chagrin to my brother Edwin. Until he left home, when I was four years old, he was an object of admiration to me, and I was a thorn in his side, for which I can hardly blame him, because I removed the attention of the family. When he was seventeen, he decided to go to Canada to make his way. Well can I remember one Sunday evening when I was four years old - seeing him off on the train.

The community of Hornsea was essentially respectable. It exuded respectability at every street-corner. It was on the seashore but was not a resort like the vulgar Withernsea or Brid1ington to which "trippers" flocked from Hull and Leeds and other industrial centers on bank holidays. The population varied little from summer to winter being about twenty-five hundred. Most of the men conducted businesses in Hull and traveled back and forth on the London and North - Eastern. The town was clannish and the barriers were rigidly adhered to. At the head of the social scale were the rector of the Church of England and his wife; the principal of St. Bede's, a respectable little, private school for boys, and his wife; the Honorable Richard Constable (who owned a good deal of the surrounding country and a hundred years earlier would have been cal led the Squire) and his wife. Then came those families living in the larger houses and the head of which owned a business in Hull, followed by those who were employed in Hull, by one of the large manufacturing concerns. Then came the Hornsea tradespeople, and lastly came the laboring class, the farm hands and railway porters and so forth. And the sentiment was that it was degrading to engage in an occupation below one's class or even to engage in conversation outside of a purely business nature with those below one's station. I can remember being scolded on more than one occasion for playing with errand boys.

In such an atmosphere the churches thrived. Hardy, indeed, were those who played golf on Sunday morning. The most respectable church, of course, was the Church of England. It was housed in a delightful old building in the center of the town, and dated back to the thirteenth century. I have faint recollections of the incumbent, when I was a child, a dear, old, jolly man - always kindly and ready for a joke or a romp with the boys, but he died when I was four or five, to be succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Harrington, a tall, gaunt man who never won the love of his flock as the Rev. Mr. Nicholas had. His wife was one of his biggest handicaps since she was strongly suspected by the ladies of Hornsea of looking down upon them. It was said that she had moved in high circles in Edinburgh before she married and that she had never acquired the viewpoint of a minister's wife.

The next church in point of social prestige was the Congregational and then in successive steps the Wesleyan and the Primitive Methodist. The latter was the haven of the laboring and cheap trading class, who would have received a cold shoulder if they had ventured into the Church of England. It was regarded in much the same light, as Mrs. MacPherson's Temple is regarded by the Methodists and Baptists in this country - as the hangout of rather queer people, socially inferior and "preachy" - but undoubtedly doing good to those for whom it was intended, i.e., the lower classes. On one occasion, when I was about four years old, a noted evangelist came to the "Prims" - as they were irreverently known - and my mother broke a long respected point of social etiquette and decided to go. She took father and me with her. . I can remember sitting in the front row of the balcony - my mother did not want to be seen downstairs - and being much interested in the man shouting and jumping about on the platform below. When he reached his climax, he cried upon all those who wished to take him by the hand and enter Heaven with him to stand up. Mother took me by the hand and pulled me up. The exception was my father. Mother tried to lift him too, but he would not budge. Owing to our strategic position, the evangelist could see his lack of action clearly and added a personal exhortation to join Jesus. My father replied that if he, the evangelist, was the type of person who was going to inhabit Heaven, he father would rather join his friends in the other place. There were bitter scenes that night when we arrived home. I mention this incident to show my father's independence of sprit and his dislike of the spectacular religion.

There were two other church groups represented in Hornsea. One was the Roman Catholic. There were two families embraced by that faith and they would travel on Sunday to their nearest chapel some ten miles away. The other faith was Christian Science. This group had a small building in which some thirty to fifty would meet on Sundays and Wednesdays. My mother was an ardent Christian Scientist and for many years was the First Reader. Until I was thirteen or fourteen, I attended under compulsion regularly. My father, though nominally a member of the Church of England, seldom attended. He was a freethinker and was interested in Theosophy and Occultism from a scientific standpoint. On one memorable occasion as we took our Sunday walk he told me he didn't believe there was any Hell in the literal sense of the term. This was sacrilege to me but pleasant sacrilege, and although I knew from my frequent trips to Sunday School that it was a wicked thought, still I enjoyed entertaining it secretly.

For the first few years of my childhood I played alone a great deal. In this play I had two companions who never failed me and who always were willing to accord me precedence - virtues which real playmates did not possess. These two were Dick and Coux and they were always with me. On our annual vacations they occupied their own seats in the railway carriage and had their own places at the table at home. Dick was a quiet individual who always had a story to tell me, when I was in a sober mood, and who would listen to my stories and would sympathize with me on those all too rare occasions when I received corporal punishment. Coux was a jolly, hail-fellow-well met, sort of individual, who would join me in a rough and tumble. Between the two of them I was well cared for socially. They died natural deaths, when I was six or seven, for it was then I began to acquire a wider circle of acquaintances in the neighborhood.

In the evenings, and on our Sunday walks, father would tell me stories. Of these, from the first, my favorites were the yarns of Jules Verne and Conrad. My father was an omnivorous reader and had a singular memory for details.

Another favorite occupation was map traveling with my sisters. We would take out the big atlas and with a pencil follow through countless journeys over all parts of the globe. This occupation proved of value in my schoolwork later, and the fondness for it has never left me.

The house in which I was born, and in which we lived until I was thirteen was a large brick, ivy covered, homey looking place about seventy yards from the North Sea, and within constant sound of its waves. From the first, the ocean held a great fascination for me. On a number of occasions, when I was first able to toddle, I would walk deliberately into the waves and be bowled over. The fact that the act of being knocked down was painful and that I did not seem to learn from experience would show a very low I. Q. - My memories of these episodes, though necessarily faint, show me that I was attracted by the water. Some two miles inland across the town was the Mere; beautiful bodies of fresh water some three miles in diameter. That is associated in my mind with early memories of Saturday and Sunday afternoons on the water.

On the exciting occasions when I would be taken to Hull for a day's visit, usually to see the dentist, I would see my cousins, the Holdsworth's, the children of my father's youngest sister, Aunt Phoebe and her husband, Uncle Arthur. Her family consisted of two girls, two or three years older than myself, and a boy a year younger, Howard. In 1910 or 1911 the Holdsworths decided to move out to Hornsea to live and built a house on the cliff just north of ours. Next door to them came the Midgleys, Uncle Arthur's business partner. Howard's coming was in many ways important to me and to him. Although we quarreled a great deal, we were inseparable companions for many years. Soon after his coming I began to play more with several boys in our neighborhood of my own age, chiefly one Rupert Ross, whose father owned a large wholesale hardware concern in Hull, and a boy named Kenneth Thorpe, also of a "respectable' family.

By the time I was seven or eight. Howard and I had organized several "gangs" on the lines of the Roman Republic, in that they were governed by "Consuls" - usually called "Generals" in our case - namely Howard and myself. He and I might quarrel in private as to our relative precedence but - when in the gang, we upheld each other in order to preserve the eminence of the two of us. Our favorite activity consisted in exploring the cliffs, in building fires on the sand and roasting potatoes from home on them, in an occasional flight from the fields of a testy farmer; in digging caves for our "dens" and in anatomical experiments of a distinctly erotic nature. Fortunately none of these later developed into abnormalities. At this distance they seem to have been merely animal curiosity. We were detected twice by Aunt Phoebe who scolded us severely, and once by Uncle Arthur who said nothing. On occasion we would have a fight with another group from another part of town but there was little bloodshed. I can remember only one really serious individual fight, which took place when a larger boy attacked Howard or myself, I forget which - and the other chimed in to help. Despite his size, the two of us managed to vanquish him and the affair rather cemented our friendship. We had numerous boyish quarrels among ourselves ending occasionally in blows.

We received well-merited admonitions from our parents, when our activities caused undue damage to our homes but were seldom treated more severely. Father never trashed me, and Mother not more than three or four times. On one occasion, when I had been more than usually irritating to my elder sister, Doris gave me the soundest thrashing of my life. I felt considerable resentment for a time, feeling that she was not in a position of sufficient authority to wield the rod, but it wore off.

At six I started at "St. Hilda's Elementary School" which was a kindergarten for boys and girls of the better classes in Hornsea, and in the upper forms for girls only. I was there three years altogether. It was owned and operated by a lady of severe appearance known as Miss Greenland, something after the order of "Miss Asthma" in the comic strip. She had as her assistants several younger women who were much more human, and with several of them my sisters were friendly. None of them stick in my mind except the French teacher who used to visit our home a good deal with Marjory the younger of my sisters. I remember her only for her kindness in class. At St. Hilda's we were initiated into arithmetic, English grammar, spelling, French, and in the second year Latin, and one or two other useless subjects. The psychology of education was unknown in those days and emphasis laid upon the cultural necessity of Latin and French even at the age of seven. It was only by a miracle that I escaped Greek.

Howard did not follow me to St. Hilda's. Instead, when he was seven he was sent to St. Bede's which was exclusively a boys' school, whither I followed him when I was nine. During that time we had rather drifted apart - Howard becoming more friendly with the boys at St. Bede's and I swinging over into close contacts with Rupert and Kenneth who had gone with me to St. Hilda's. When I entered St Bede's, I found Howard considerably ahead of me in many ways - ease of manner with other boys, pugnacity, athletics, and other things which seem of prime importance to boys at that age. It was some months before I began to catch up and we really resumed our intimate association.

The principal of St. Bede's was as austere in his way as Miss Greenland had been. He was First Lay Reader of the Church of England, a prominent figure in the community and very particular about the type of family from which he recruited his boys. There were some seventy or eighty dayboys, and twenty or thirty boarders from the district around. Life was well ordered there. We assembled at nine-fifteen with a devotional period and closed with further devotions at three-thirty. The studies were severely "cultural" - most of us studied Latin, Greek, French history, geography, spelling and chemistry, and even Hebrew, this at the age of nine or ten. From this distance it seems highly reprehensible on the part of our instructors that we should have spent our time on Latin and Greek and should be left entirely uninformed on such necessities as civics, ethics and psychology. If there were not much more important things to be done, I would like to institute a school for boys that would really give them something worthwhile. My curriculum would include intensive ramblings into great literary masterpieces of the world - first merely for their story value, to capture the imagination and interest of the boy, and later study them deeper so that by the time the lad was in his teens a love of beauty, the ability to spell, and the habitual use correct grammar would be second nature to him. Then there would be courses in elementary science and especially such subjects as physiology and hygiene, so that the number of people turned out into the world absolutely ignorant of the workings and care of their bodies would be lessened in some degree. Constructive art, modeling, design, working models, etc., properly presented, fascinate the average boy and are invaluable in training art and the art of living. And lastly there would be instruction by practice rather than by precept in the social sciences in how to live cooperatively with one's neighbor.

The principal, whom we nicknamed "Bobs", taught the deeper subjects - Latin, Greek, history - to the older boys. An assistant was responsible for the less "cultural" subjects of the older boys - mathematics, geography, spelling, chemistry - while the daughter of the principal - a girl of some twenty or twenty two, when I entered the school, had charge of the younger boys. As one of the latter, I was under her charge for my first year at St. Bede's. I was not a satisfactory pupil. I ran into conflict with her on the first day, when I did not wish to eat part of the meal at lunch. I had been finicky about my food at home, and mother had never been very particular about making me eat what was good for me rather than what I wanted. Miss Reynolds, after a struggle, succeeded in making me finish my plate, but I never liked her after that and would not attend very much in class. As a consequence we were always in conflict. And since my family was intimate with the Reynolds', it led to trouble at home.

The assistant teachers were always the most interesting to me. I could sense the struggle between them and the principal. They changed frequently. The most important one for me was a relatively young man named Chambers, who was there during my last year and a half. He was an agnostic although only those of us who were intimately associated with him knew it. I believe that "Bobs" began to suspect Chambers' religious discrepancies, because he left suddenly shortly before my time was up. He was popular with us and made his subjects interesting, as "Bobs" could never do. On one occasion as he was demonstrating his ability on the parallel bars by climbing up onto the rods of the ceiling, "Bobs" entered unexpectedly and ill - concealed his disgust at the exhibition. Chambers interested several of us in chemistry to the extent that we commandeered a greenhouse which had fallen to disuse in the backyard of my home and set up there a laboratory whence issued insistent stinks and occasional explosions. The laboratory was the factory for the construction of poison-gas bombs (sulphurretted-hydrogen), explosive caps, and countless model airplanes.

The quiet daring of Chambers' manner, his never-failing kindness to us, and the fact that we quickly sensed his alliance with us against "Bobs" and the powers that were, all contributed to Chambers' popularity with the hilarious section of the school, and, in my case at least, his thinly-veiled agnosticism was the first rift in the lute of my religious consciousness. He led me further by introducing me to several of the more skeptical of the books of Wells and Doyle. Chambers was probably the object of my first hero-worship.

During the summer before I entered St. Bede's, the Great War broke out. My memory of the details of the first year is hazy. One fact stands out. On the morning of August 4th 1914, as my father left for Hull, he turned to me in the hallway and said teasingly: "Rations will be pretty short soon, young man. What if you get pretty hungry before the War's over?'' I remember bursting into tears and clutching convulsively to the banisters at the mere suggestion of anything so horrible.

The second clear impression of those days brings to mind the turning over to the army of the enclosed tennis-court behind our house. It was a large wooden building, and some hundred and fifty to two hundred men were stationed there. For washroom facilities, they were quartered in the houses in the neighborhood, so many washing at each home. In addition to this, as an extra from the plainness of army meals, several would be guests at almost every meal at home, and more were constantly coming in some trouble or other. For some reason or other, our family for many years was a clearing-house for the troubles of other Hornsea residents, and during the War of the soldiers.

I was in my element. I was a frequenter of the mess hall and the barracks and became the mascot to the companies stationed in the neighborhood. By some strange good fortune I encountered no perverts but some of my chums were less lucky, as whispered conferences in our dens would reveal.

One Sunday morning in October of that year is still very clear in my memory. As we were eating breakfast with several soldiers as guests, the house was rocked violently, windows shook, people on the streets screamed, and pandemonium reigned. We did not learn the facts for some hours. The German navy had slipped by the British during the night and had appeared without warning in Scarborough Bay, thirty-two miles up the coast. They shelled the town, wrecked several churches, and strengthened the morale of the entire country in righteous wrath. A few weeks later the town of West Hartlepool, eighty or ninety miles north, was wiped out similarly.

About this time my paternal and sole remaining grandparent died in York and my sister, Doris, who had been there to care for her for two or three years returned home and began volunteer nursing at the local military hospital and Marjorie was appointed a joint manager of the Y.M.C.A. Hut. These activities of my sisters gave me entre into these two military organizations, and many hours each week I spent enthusiastically spilling out coffee to the tittilatory sensations of being bandaged by nurses in training

My brother, Edwin, essayed to enlist with the Canadian army but his eyes were weak and he was rejected. On Christmas morning 1915 he arrived in Hornsea after an absence of five years. He spent a fortnight with us then enlisted. The English army could not afford at that time to be so particular about defects in eyesight. By April of 1916 his training was completed and he was in France. He was killed in July of that year. I was not old enough at that time to appreciate the horror of it but remember the changes in the rest of the family. My father aged considerably. Edwin was but one of many to be lost from the families of Hornsea and every other English community.

As the war progressed our activities increased, Father was in the Volunteers for those over military age, in addition to conducting his business. Mother knitted; Doris spent many hours, daily, at the hospital; Marjorie spent just as many at the "Y". All my time out of school was spent at either of those places or as a Boy Scout collecting old papers to be made into bandages, cleaning grease off engines at the airdrome, or acting as a bag-carrier for the post-women. All this work was entirely voluntary and without recompense except inflated Egos. At this distance (perhaps because of my American contacts) the surprising thing to me is not that we should not have been paid, but that we should not have thought of pay.

With 1916 came the air raids. Second only to London in favor with the Hun was Hull as a convenient place to bomb. For two years we experienced raids several times a week. The morale of England during this period will be apparent when I say that there was little, if any, reaction to these raids on the part of those undergoing them. They were regarded as part of the hazards of war and to "do one's bit" it was necessary to keep up a brave front and trust to luck - "Doing one's bit" was a phrase on the tongue of everyone in those days.

Considering the hazards and expense, the raids profited the Germans little. The loss of life was relatively light, and they did not accomplish their purpose of frightening the English. The occasional lucky shots, when a hospital or cathedral was destroyed infuriated rather than intimidated.

A few raids stand out in my memory because of some special detail. There was the evening in summer when they arrived before dark and hovered in the sky two miles out at sea, plainly visible. There was the night when the Hull barrage proved too heavy for Heine to penetrate and he dropped all his bombs and torpedoes on Hornsea on his way home And there was that evening which brought so much joy to all good Hornsea residents when one was brought down in flames at the edge of the town, killing all the crew.

With November 11, 1918 came the end. There was no demonstration except that every house showed all its lights without shades for the first time since the Zep menace began. We gathered quietly at home and a few friends dropped in, in the course of the evening, to discuss the terms of the Peace and ponder on whether the Allies should not have pushed on to Berlin and crushed Germany completely.

In May of 1919 father, the strain over, fell ill and the family moved to Pateley Bridge to a cottage of an Uncle, where we frequently spent summer holidays (we always went away for a fortnight in the summer), During the time they were away I became a boarder at St. Bede's. It was my first experience away from home but it seems to have been a happy time. The curious thing is that from a relatively dull student I became interested in my studies and was soon at the head of the school.

I spent the summer at Pateley Bridge and Howard came along with me. Because of father's illness we were quiet and got into none of the deviltry of previous years. After I had returned to school in Hornsea, father died in October of 1919.

After a brief period of disorganization, Marjorie decided to enter music teaching definitely, as a means of livelihood and went to the Nottingham Conservatory as a part-time instructor - part-time student. Doris went to the Lancashire training school for poultry farmers and from there to a position, first, in Hitchin, near London, and then in Cheshire. Mother and I remained in Hornsea. It looked for a time as if I, at the age of thirteen, should have to find a position. Two things saved me from this. Father's brother, in Leeds, the owner of the Pateley Bridge Cottage, suddenly wrote to say that he would send me twenty shillings weekly for food and clothes, if I would stay in school. About the same time I sat for an examination and won a scholarship for Hymer's College, a junior college in Hull. This scholarship provided me with books, tuition and railway fare back and forth daily. Thus financed, I spent three and one half happy years at Hymers, emerging from the sixth, or top form, in July 1923. During this time our circumstances had gradually improved, owing to the slight increase in property values in Hull. In 1921 we built a house and shortly afterwards bought a motorcycle and sidecar which brought us a great deal of pleasure and added to my responsibilities.

It was when I was fourteen or so that my interest in girls became inflamed. I had always had a more or less definite sweetheart, but had never played with girls and had been prompt to maintain my disgust for them, when in the gang. When I was fourteen I attempted, very nervously, to kiss the girl who had for many years been my so-called sweetheart. I was repulsed. A second attempt with another girl shortly afterwards was successful and I found it pleasing. I enjoyed occasional kisses from then on but it was not until I came to America that I experienced a "petting party." During this period one girl had a profound effect upon me. We met as tennis partners at a somewhat snobbish, fashionable club I joined, and soon became fast friends. She was several - eight or ten - years my senior which, of course, tended to make a scandal, but until I left England, Lily and I were inseparable. She would never allow me to kiss her but otherwise she was as delightful a companion as one could wish for. We rode together, played together, and swam together. It was she who purged me of my training as to the inherent inferiority of the labouring classes. By a combination of scorn, teasing example and reasoning, she awoke me to the fact that a man could work with his hands and still be a gentleman. To one reared on good old English precept this is preposterous. Doubtless the fallacy of my previous concepts would have been brought home to me in America anyway, but Lily made it much easier for me.

I announced at Christmas, 1922, at our party at home that I was going to America the following summer. I was regarded as lucky by my chums, plucky by my girl friends and damn silly by relatives. Most of the latter, from all accounts, are still of the same opinion. After much discussion mother and Doris elected to come with me - Marjorie to stay until the outcome of our venture proved successful or otherwise. A brother of mother's, Uncle Stanley, who had moved to America in 1907, wrote offering to start me in his office as draughtsman with the chance to work up to architecture as a profession. Accordingly we sailed from Liverpool in August of 1923 and arrived in Bellingham, Washington, Stanley's home, in the middle of September.

We had been told that the period of readjustment would probably prove hardest for mother and Doris and that I, being still in my teens, would never notice it after a few weeks. It proved otherwise. Mother and Doris set themselves to like America and succeeded. I did not realize what readjustment was, and was open-minded. Stanley had married a Missouri girl and she felt called upon to impress upon me the grandeur of the states and the unmitigated smallness of all things English. I had been prepared to go halfway but this was too much, and since I have always been of a contrary disposition anyway, it was not long before I despised Minnie and all she stood for. The first two years were unhappy consequently. It was not until I left Bellingham to enter the University of Oregon that I was able to realize that America did have its good points after all. Under the friendly influence of many friends I made there, I became more open upon several questions, including religion and race. Upon my election to the presidency of the Cosmopolitan club I developed almost a mania for the welfare of all foreign students - particularly Orientals - upon the campus - who, it seemed to me - were most unfairly excluded from all social organizations. From an upright Tory before I met Lily, I developed into an out and out Bolshevik by the time I left Oregon. Paralleling this came a stronger and stronger Socinian agnosticism.

Too recent to be evaluated with any certainty came other developments. I spent my two years at Oregon washing dishes, waiting on tables and doing odd jobs for my living. During the summer of 1926 I worked my way along the picturesque Alaskan coast, as far as the Bering Sea. During 1927, my second year at Oregon, I acquired my second serious love affair. That ended when I went to New Mexico for the summer of 1927. By this time I had definitely left home for good and had realized it. In August of 1927 I drove to California from New Mexico arriving penniless and hungry. Inside a week I had a position as leader at a Y.M.C.A. camp. I had had previous experience with the Y.M.C.A. at different conferences and found this camp settling to me. I applied for a position as Associate Boys' Work Secretary to fill a vacancy at the San Pedro branch of the Los Angeles "Y" and was accepted. With the exception of a break when I went north that Christmas, 1927, for mother's funeral, I was in San Pedro until recently. It was there that I met Helen Williams, and it was there that I married her on my return from Honolulu in August of this year. And it is there that I hope to return, if I ever leave this damned town alive.

This article is by permission of
Beverly Brighouse Halverson, ©2011