Children's stories from Birmingham during the war
On the 13th November 1915, the Birmingham Weekly Mercury began 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?"
There were many more entries in the competition:
Stanley Eld, aged 13, 69 Somerset Road: "The brave fellows who have so boldly offered their services to uphold freedom of the world, some alas! never to return...it is absolutely necessary that we should be well equipped to take the fallen's places either in business, profession or commercial careers, and with this purpose in view learn all that modern education can give us. Girls and boys, we must live pure, healthy lives, having fresh air, and where possible going in for physical training. And thus by just studying hard and keeping fit I am convinced we shall be doing our bit."
Mary Nicholls, aged 10, 147 Vicarage Road, Aston:
"One of the first things I think little children should do is to make up their minds that they will not purchase anything made by Germans or Austrians, for by doing so they are helping the enemy, At the Vicarage Road School girls like myself are taking home wool to knit socks to send to our soldiers. My friends are older than I are knitting helmets and mittens. I have learnt a poem which is called 'Barbara Fritchie', by John Greenleaf Whittier, which I hope to recite at a concert. I have helped my mother to make some plum pudding to send to a friend who is fighting in the trenches".
Leslie Smith, aged 12, 16 Ivor Road, Sparkhill:
"The Belgian population fled to different countries, chiefly to Holland and England. to escape the Germans, and these refugees had to be accommmodated for, so homes were started for thousands of them. Here is a chance to help provide for these homes. Our School has since October 1914, collected between £70 and £80 for a Belgian Home nearby. There is another way in which children may also help. They can go to church regularly and pray for our brave soldiers. Would not this be better than going walks or playing about on the Sabbath?"
Leslie A. Harris, aged 12, Ladypool Road Sparkbrook: "There are so many different kinds of work children could do, but one of the most needful is to help the many Belgian refugees that have been driven from their own homes and have had to seek protection from England. Most boys and girls could afford halfpenny or a penny every week to help this excellent cause. At the school I attend a collection is made every week, and the money and goods athat are collected are given to inmates of the Belgian Home near by. In all, we have collected nearly £90. When one thinks about it one realises that the Belgians deserve it, because if it had not been for their bravery and courage the Germans may have been pillaging England the same day they did in Belgium".
Charles James, aged 13, 263 Ladypool road:"What are they doing? is the question which is asked by many people? We gladly give up a portion of our pocket money so that we can contribute to a Belgian Fund which has been founded to provide refugees with food from the money which is got from contributions.
When boys leave school, they chiefly go into munitions factories, where, although some go because of the high wages, most boys go because they know that they are helping their King and Country. Then again, boys assist their Country by joining the Junior Cadet Corps. Of course, they cannot go to the front to fight the Germans, but in years to come they will be ready for all emergencies, as they would be already trained in military life. Boys are doing as much work as anybody to win this great war."
Albert J. Harris, age not given, 31 Eton Road, Sparkbrook "The school children can help by giving their odd coppers to the many funds that are loudly clamouring for more subscriptions. Girls can knit the woolen articles that the soldiers require, and help the recruiting sergeants by trying to persuade the 'slackers' to enlist voluntarily while they have the chance. Hundreds of boys of thirteen years of age would be quite willing to work on munitions in order to give some of the war workers a chance to enlist... The soldiers departing for the seat of war require a good send-ff and it is chiefly the children's duty to wish them luck and give them encouragement."
James Boffey and Charles Evans aged 14, in The Cradle, school magazine of Allcock Street Council School, Boy's department, June 1916
"Our heroic soldiers and sailors are admired by every British subject for their patriotism. every boy and girl can show their love of country by not doing anything that will disgrace its reputation. Those children who have fathers or brothers serving their King and Country ought to help their mothers in every possible way, and thus help them to bear their heavy burdens. People who lose hope when a loss is inflicted upon them are not real patriots. Even our enemies are patriots of their country. All parts of our Empire have sent men to keep the Motherland in the war and many have made the greatest sacrifice by giving their lives . Many women have shown their patriotism by offering their services as Red Cross nurses and many are filling the places of men who are fighting. Boy Scouts are showing their patriotism by collecting for different war funds and by training to become fine soldiers and sailors. Girls are knitting socks, scarves and mittens for our heroes. A fine motto for us all is: 'I am happy to die for my country.' these words were spoken by Nurse Cavell who was basely executed by the Germans in 1915. We will remember her example."