‘The Army Children of the First World War: Faces and Families’
During the First World War, from 1914 to 1918, there was scarcely a British child whose life remained untouched by the hostilities. German Zeppelin raids on British soil were a sporadic direct threat to life and limb from 1915, while attacks on British shipping by enemy submarines led to food shortages and, in 1918, rationing. War work would have taken many of their mothers away from the hearth and home for the first time to fill the shoes of men who had joined the military. Nonetheless, the greatest impact that Britain being at war had on the nation’s children resulted from the requirement that their fathers ‘do their bit’. Those in reserved occupations might be exempted from military service, while those who refused to bear arms might be classified as conscientious objectors. For the most part, however, men of fighting fitness and fighting age joined the armed services: the Royal Navy; from 1918, the Royal Air Force; and, in the greatest numbers of all, the British Army.

On the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914, many British children were already army children, their fathers being regular soldiers serving in the British Army. The ranks of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were soon swelled by volunteers, ‘Kitchener’s Army’. Conscription followed in 1916, initially for single men, but, from May 1916, also for married men between the ages of 18 and 41, the need for ever more combatants prompting the age range to be widened to 17 to 51 in April 1918. Having a soldier–father could have numerous emotional and practical consequences for a child of the Great War, from feeling bereft by the temporary absence of a beloved parent sent away for military training, or – worse – to the Front, to his permanent absence from the heart of the family should he be killed in action. For some children, family life would never be the same again, even after the Armistice proclaimed the war’s end in November 1918, for many of those soldier–fathers who returned to their pre-war civilian existence had been irrevocably scarred – be it physically or psychologically, and often both – by their wartime experiences. They were therefore not the same men, and their relationship with their children would inevitably change, too.

The photographs that you see here have been collected by The Army Children Archive (TACA), a virtual resource that chronicles British army children’s history. The initial set comprises ten photographic portraits; more are being added at the rate of about one a week. Whenever and however their fathers became soldiers, all of these photographs show the faces of some of the army children of the First World War. While most of these youngsters are anonymous, as much information as is known about their families, or that can be gleaned from the photographs, has been given. Despite the lack of historical or genealogical background with which to put the faces portrayed into a more telling context, many of the photographs still speak evocatively of family relationships: of the joy of togetherness; of the pain of separation; and of anxiety about what the future might hold. As such, these snapshots in time are moving testaments to the effect that the First World War had on family life.

Looking at the faces of the army children of the First World War may kindle your interest or fire your imagination, leading you down further avenues of investigation or inspiration. (For example, was a photograph taken before the soldier–father left for the Front, or while he was on leave? What might the father–child relationship have been like? Might the family be related to you? What happened to the children as they grew up?) And if you can shed any more light on their identities or stories – be it by providing a name or adding information about a military unit or place – please do, either by inserting it beneath the image or by e-mailing tommydrum@f2s.com.

You may also be interested in viewing a parallel Flickr set of postcards and ephemera devoted to sentimental images featuring children, along with postcards sent and received by them, during the First World War; if so, follow the link to see The Army Children of the First World War: a Sentimental View’: bit.ly/ACFWWSentimental.

Quick links
For more about ‘The Army Children of the First World War’ project: bit.ly/ArmyChildrenFWW.
The Army Children Archive (TACA): www.archhistory.co.uk.
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