Children’s experiences and propaganda
Childhood experience of the war reflected these radical changes. Children were vulnerable to the effects of shortages caused by blockades and the need to redirect resources to the war effort. They experienced the loss of parents and other adults in their families as fathers and uncles joined the armed forces and mothers and aunts started working in factories. At the same time, the experiences of children across Europe generally had been changing rapidly from the mid-19th century, as a result of reforms in education and progress in maternal and infant care. By the early years of the 20th century, more children received some form of school provision up to their early teens than ever before.
Saint Sava is blessing Serbian children
Photograph of refugee children at a Serbian-American orphanage in Nice, France. The children are praying in front of a statue of Saint Sava, believed to be protector of the Serbian people, schools and the state.
Schoolwork created by children in wartimeIn the minds of many Europeans of this time, education meant learning correct moral behaviour just as much as learning to read and write. Already before 1914, school had become an important influence on children’s values, sometimes even more so than parents. Across Europe, schools promoted patriotic values. This development became even more marked from the start of the conflict, as schools and teachers came under pressure to devote their entire teaching to support of the war effort.
Children and the War - a book for young people
A book of patriotic readings addressed to school children, published in 1917 in Italy.
Done by the enemy! - child's drawing
'Durch Feindeshand!' ('Done by the Hand of the Enemy!), a detailed drawing by a child called Hubert, probably 13 years old, showing the destruction of a village.View images from this item (1)
School essay written by a student about a fictitious attack on London
‘How I made a nightly attack on London with my Zeppelin’: story written and illustrated by an Austrian schoolboy, in which he imagines bombing London and returning to cheering crowds.
Impressions of the airship raids over London, as recorded by boys in London
A schoolchild's account of the German airship raids on London, 8th September and 13th October 1915.
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Children’s humour and cruelty in propagandaCruelty towards the enemy was encouraged by propaganda directed at children as well as adults. The use of cruelty in children’s humour was prevalent before the war, for example in the popular book Struwelpeter. This parody of morality tales for children consisted of rhymes and grisly images that told the gruesome fate of children who didn’t behave properly. Originally published in the mid-19th century, it remained popular through Europe, and was adapted for propaganda purposes in both world wars.
German children's book 'The Wartime Shockheaded Peter'
Detail from The Wartime Shockheaded Peter, an adaptation of the well-known tales for children, Struwelpeter.View images from this item (7)
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The use of cruelty was particularly heightened in commercial publications, such as the German children’s book Hurray! A picture book of war. The book tells the story of two boys, the German ‘Willi’ and Austrian ‘Franzl’, as they learn about the different countries fighting in the war, and take part in attacks on enemies. The countries are divided into ‘good’ or ‘evil’ depending on which side they are on.
Hurray! A war picture-book for children
Detail from German children's book Hurray! A picture book of war (1915).View images from this item (4)
Lady, hurry up!
'Lady, hurry up!', a postcard showing two children imitating a soldier and a Red Cross nurse.View images from this item (1)
Propaganda and children’s roles
Children were expected to contribute to the war in a number of ways, including growing vegetables in family allotments, and collecting scrap materials for re-use. They helped to make necessary equipment such as sandbags, and girls were encouraged to knit clothes for soldiers. War savings campaigns in particular made an effort to recruit children. They were required to contribute their own money, and to encourage their adult relations to do likewise. Schools helped coordinate fundraising activities such as concerts.As children grew older, their roles became more militarised. The Scouting movement was a significant factor, emphasising military preparedness and practical support for police and armed forces. Older children carried out jobs such as carrying messages between army barracks or government departments, and worked in soup kitchens for soldiers. The propaganda aimed at earlier years prepared children for more active roles.
Children imitating soldiers
Photograph showing children imitating soldiers by carrying improvised swords and shields and lining up as if for a military drill.View images from this item (1)
Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?
Poster commissioned by The British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, and designed by Savile Lumley. It was published in 1915, by which time the war was already being referred to as ‘The Great War’.View images from this item (1)
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