The Children's War: Britain, 1914-1918

By Purdue, A. W. | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, January 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Children's War: Britain, 1914-1918


Purdue, A. W., The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


The Children's War: Britain, 1914-1918. By Rosie Kennedy. Palgrave Macmillan,208pp, Pounds 50.00. ISBN 9780230221758. Published 14 February 2014

The First World War involved the mobilisation of whole societies to levels unprecedented in previous wars. Even the UK was forced, reluctantly, to introduce conscription, while the demands of the war effort led to the state organising and directing the lives of civilians. But it was not only adults who became mentally and physically committed to the war for, as Rosie Kennedy demonstrates in this fascinating study, children were mobilised and, to a large extent, mobilised themselves. They shared the experience of the nation and the war imbued every aspect of their lives; they "were not shielded from its dramas, exempt from its hardships, or immune to its tragedies".

Children were not, of course, exposed to physical danger and nor, indeed, were most adult civilians, since the distinction between the home front and the fighting fronts was maintained. If aerial bombing by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers caused panic, their raids were only a taste of what was to come in the 1939-45 war, and the mass evacuation of children was not necessary. Nevertheless, death came to families, and one brutal statistic alone justifies Kennedy's claims that children experienced the war's tragedies: more than 350,000 children lost their fathers and, she adds, with the "722,785 British servicemen who died, many thousands more would have lost brothers, cousins, uncles, friends and neighbours".

War required a population that was not just physically conscripted but also mentally mobilised. Children became as committed to the war effort, as convinced of the justice of the nation's cause, and as determined on victory as anyone else. The war imbued every aspect of their lives: their education; their home lives, for families were separated; their play and the magazines, comics and books they read; the voluntary organisations, such as the Scouts and Guides, to which they belonged; and the attitudes and ideals that were to shape their adult lives. Adherence to the national cause was crucial, for no one knew how long the conflict would continue and, as the death toll mounted, the character, morale and determination of the next generation of soldiers and civilians mattered greatly. …

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