Children & the War

War is generally perceived as a pursuit of adults, but it shapes the lives of children too. The generation that fought the First World War may now have passed to the grave, but the last vestiges of the one that lived its childhood through conflict remains. And, to many of those, the war remains a clear memory.


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From a Letters page of 1917. Tommies billeted on a French school teach the children English. On the rear board is a drawing of a cat and the word is written on its forward counterpart. The blurred images of the children suggest that they were receiving the instruction with anything but patient interest. 
 Boys and girls pulling a turnip drill, from the correspondence pages in 1915. According to the photographer in the accompanying letter, women and children were actively engaged in every kind of agricultural pursuit in the local countryside. How much such labours were encouraged by patriotic fervour or necessity is difficult to determine.

An advertisement printed in 1914 shows the patriotic fervour of the moment reflected even in the creation of childrens’ toys. The dress of two dolls, a Belgian soldier and ‘Tommy Atkins’ underlines the survival of colourful military uniforms until the beginning of the war. 

Boys from Lancing in West Sussex inspect a landscape target with trees and buildings. Country Life was reporting on the activities of public school cadet corps before the outbreak of hostilities. 
Sir Edward Ward, Under Secretary of State for War, inspects the Officer Training Corps contingent for the Country Life Public Schools shooting trophy in 1913.

This photograph of a young girl appeared on a Letters page of 1915 simply with the caption ‘a photo for the front’.

Boys from the Heritage Craft School for Cripples, Chailey, Sussex, listen to the battle stories of a sergeant injured at war in 1916. The school and its facilities were used by seriously maimed soldiers. The example of the children was reported to have transformed the mental state of the men.

Schools were among the institutions involved in fundraising for the war, as this photograph of ambulances, published in 1915, illustrates.