The second volume of Woodruff’s memoirs starts with him having arrived in Poplar in the early 1930s. On spec he turns up at a steel foundry and luckily gets a job. His digs are with an old couple in Bow where he has to share a single bed (head to toe) with their mentally retarded son.
Life in the foundry is grim but William is indomitable. For recreation one day he cycles (then in the days before inflatable tyres) to Berkhamstead to try and track down an old girlfriend. She’s not there and he has to return in a snowstorm – it takes him eight hours to get back to Poplar and then he has to get up three hours later to work at the foundry.
Eventually he decides to ‘get some leernin’ and his first white collar job starts for the water board in … Brettenham House! He continues to pursue his studies, finally winning a place at Ruskin College, Oxford. How the ex-steel worker became an Oxford academic – and William’s concluding description of returning from the war to meet the son he’s never seen – is deeply moving.