You Can Help Your Country: English Children’s Work During the Second World War

Juliet Gardiner on British children in the Second World War

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Reviewed by: Juliet Gardiner
Author: Berry Mayall and Virginia Morrow
Publisher: The Institute of Education, University of London
Price (RRP): £25.99

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Children, said The Lady in 1940, should not be thought of “as charming pets to be kept away from real life… They too are British people and they may be better British people if their patriotism is tested in their early years”.

You Can Help Your Country usefully (if in textbook style) extends our understanding about children in wartime by showing what was expected of them – and, for most, childhood was over by 14 – when Britain was at war.

Children’s contributions were manifold, collecting salvage, helping on the land, saving and digging for victory, knitting for the troops, running errands for ARP wardens, raising funds for battleships and contributing pocket money for Spitfires.

Working-class children had always been part of the domestic economy but the ‘social contract’ that the war effort forged helped consolidate their right to be recognised primarily as learners rather than as earners.

Juliet Gardiner’s most recent book is The Blitz: The British Under Attack (HarperPress, 2010)

See also

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Juliet Gardiner reviews When the Children Came Home: Stories of Wartime Evacuees by Julie Summers