Hello, my name’s Elsie Stratford and I’m six years old. It was my birthday yesterday and also the day I started work. Yes, SIX years old – Mam kept me back an extra year because I’m so small. She said she wished she could send me to school like the boys but it’s more important that boys can read and write and we need the money because wages have gone down and I’m eating more.
It’s my job to sweep the floors to get back the metal. The more metal I find, the more I get paid. I got a whole penny yesterday but Mam says that’s because the previous girl died and the floors hadn’t been swept for days. She bought enough potatoes with my penny to last all eight of us for the week and the grocer gave her some carrots that had black spots for free. I felt so proud to be helping my family.
I need to get in the corners more, me being so small should help with that. Ethel says her baby brother is bigger ‘n me. Mam says Ethel needs to keep her mouth shut.
I thought sweeping floors would be easy, I didn’t know I’d be crawling under the thundering grinding-wheels while they were still spinning. The work is dusty and I already have a cough. Mam got me a sack from the foundry. It doesn’t have too many holes and it’s tied around me with a bit of old rope so I don’t get my clothes too dirty. It trails right past my knees.
The women smile at me kindly but I don’t understand what they say. I said one of the words at home last night and Da gave me what for. He says I must never talk like them, or the minister won’t give us food. I don’t like the minister, he makes me feel sick inside the way he looks at me.
I can’t talk much longer, the foreman is glaring at me. Mam says he’s all right unless I annoy him too much. Maggie is always smiling at him and brushing up against him. Rose says that if she keeps that up there’ll be babbies. If that’s how you get babbies, I’ll run away the next time the minister does that to me.
Time to tuck my hair back in my bonnet. One of the older girls gave it to me – the last girl wouldn’t wear it and her hair caught in the grinding-wheel.
That’s how she died.