Children in Birmingham during the Great War

'Now doing Daddy's work' photoOn the 13th November 1915, the Birmingham Weekly Mercury ran a children's competition on the theme 'What can the Little Ones do in War Time?' and offered half a crown for the best letter - first prize was awarded to Irene Harrison (age 13) from 145 Ladypool Road, Sparkbrook, one of six children from a widowed mother.  Her winning entry was published on 20th November (Sian Roberts p.74):

"Certainly we children can help in this Great War.  Now what can we small nobodies do?  First, Denial is a great sacrifice, and it would bring a smile to many a soldier's face if he had a cigarette that was bought with our pennies that were saved each week instead of being squandered at the sweet shops.  'Tommy' would treasure a scarf, a pair of gloves, knitted pair of socks or a helmet; he would think more of them if bought or knitted with our small hands, for every soldier has not a sweetheart, wife or mother; lots of them, given the title of 'The Lonely Soldier', never receive parcels from relations like their chums do when away from their home; the simple reason is because they have no friends or relations.  Would not it be nice to feel that we have got a friend who is a big red-faced soldier?" See more Children's responses.

While children did contribute directly by making and sending messages and goods for soldiers, perhaps the most significant contribution was in the home itself, caring for younger siblings or housework while both parents may be working or fighting .  Children were used more in the workplace more widely and there were notable increases in 'delinquency' in Birmingham leading to challenges in Youth service and child care provision provision - see Harborne Industrial School Boys’ Band in October 1914.
Band of Harborne Industrial School

Birmingham Children of War is a project of the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Marking the Centenary of the First World War, this project focuses on uncovering children’ s experience of war from a Birmingham perspective.
 
Children were also widely used in propaganda to encourage enlistment,most notably in the use of 'The baby killers of Scarborough', but also through civilian casualties in Zeppelin raids including those in the West Midlands.
Remember Scarborough propaganda

Small boys attempting to conscript
The 'Young idea' presented above is presented more as every man's duty to serve your country, as even 'small boys presented themselves for enlistment at Curzon Hall'.

Temporary Army children
During the First World War, an enormous number of British children became ‘temporary’ army children when their civilian fathers joined the British Army as volunteers or conscripts. The effects both of living through the period at home, and of having a soldier–father affected their lives – both psychologically, as well as practically - as it can do now. Please See the Temporary Army Children project webpages.


Sian Roberts (2014) in association with the Library of Birmingham

A project exploring the lived experiences of children born or living through the First World War in Birmingham 

The Army children of World War One project

Imperial War museum document some of the ways that children contributed to the war effort. Peoples Heritage Cooperative
  
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