In our series The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye, we’re following “The Private Diary of Edward Hampton” to learn about life as a child in London 1916, half way through the First World War.
During the war, everyone was expected to ‘do their bit’ to help with war work.
Many boys were members of the Boy Scouts’ Association. Boy Scouts guarded railway bridges and tracks.
They also guarded telephone and telegraph lines, railway stations, water reservoirs or other locations that might be militarily important, and also carried messages for the War Office.
From late 1917, many Scouts assisted with air raid duties, including sounding the all-clear signal after an attack (blowing their bugles with the two brief bright notes of “All Clear.”).
Some Scouts were even trained in fire fighting.
Girl Guides also took on many roles. They packaged up clothing to send to soldiers at the front, prepared hostels and first-aid dressing stations for use by those injured in air raids or accidents, tended allotments to help cope with food shortages, and provided assistance at hospitals.
Around the home, children would look after younger brothers and sisters.
They helped with housework, carrying water and chopping firewood. They also joined long queues for food in the shops.
‘Growing your own’ became very important. Children helped dig and weed vegetable patches and worked in the fields at harvest time!
‘Flag days’ were held to make money for all kinds of wartime projects. Children would sell little flags or badges that people could pin to their coats.
This raised money for funding the war effort, for example, to build warships, or to help wounded soldiers. There was even a Blue Cross fund to help horses hurt in battle.
Children collected other things that would be useful for the war effort, such as blankets, books and magazines. These were sent to the soldiers at the front.
Boys helped with the heavy work on farms, as well as with growing vegetables in gardens, backyards, and even in parks.
The war also changed children’s games.
In the autumn of 1917, when conkers fell from horse chestnut trees, children went out and collected them – not to play with, but to help with the war.
Chemicals from conkers were used in factories, to make a substance called cordite.
Cordite was an ingredient in explosive shells and bullets. Posters were put up in schools, encouraging children to gather conkers. Boy Scout leaders helped organise collections.
The conkers were sent by train to top-secret factories at Holton Heath in Dorset and King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Around 3,000 tonnes of conkers were collected by Britain’s children!
The plan wasn’t a great success. Conkers were a poor source of acetone, the chemical needed to make cordite… In the end, piles of unused conkers were just left to rot!
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The Great War – Through a London Child’s Eye is supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.