The Children's War : British children's experience of the Great War
The First World War placed children at the heart of the debate about Britain's future. In the face of the enormous destruction of human life and the sacrifice of the economy to the needs of war, children held the promise of a brighter future. Britain was looking not just to rebuild what it had lost but to rebuild a Britain better than it had been before. Children were seen as the key to that process of reconstruction. To prepare them for the task children needed to understand the sacrifices that had been made for them and the importance of accepting their role as responsible citizens of the future. The ways war was represented to children through the school curriculum, their participation in school/youth organisations, and the production of toys and games highlight the way adults felt this could be achieved. Teachers and youth group leaders harnessed children's genuine interest in the war to teach them lessons at school and give them practical examples of the desired characteristics of obedience and self-sacrifice that would help Britain win the war and maintain its Empire in the future. Children were surrounded by the war everyday, at home, at school and in their youth groups. They read about it in books, magazines and newspapers, studied it at school and re-enactedi t in their private games. The separation from fathers and brothers, when they volunteered or were conscripted to fight, meant that the wider international conflict took on a personal significance, endangering the men these children loved. Children's experience explored through memory, personal documents, institutional experience and play, shows the diversity of children's response to war and the significance of war in the context of their lives. Children struggled to make sense of the war by combining what they learnt from adults with. what they came to understand about it for themselves.