You Can Help Your Country
English Children's Work During the Second World War
Berry Mayall and Virginia Morrow
University College London, 2020
As men and women throughout England were called up for war work during World War II, the country needed to generate as much food and wealth as possible to support them. Children quickly came to be seen as a vital resource. Many children worked the land, planting and harvesting crops, raising money for the war effort, and carrying out a range of other tasks. That war work followed on debates throughout the preceding decades about the character and proper activities of childhood, debates that saw commentators in education and workers' organizations arguing about whether children should stay in school and learn or should combine their education with war-related work. The work of children during the war raised a question that still has relevance today: Should children be conceptualized as citizens of the future or as participating citizens now? That debate has led to even larger questions about the social construction of childhood. As children have increasingly withdrawn from paid and unpaid work, their contribution today can best be understood through their work at school, though that work is often disguised or devalued as mere socialization. The interwar years and the war years in England were a key time for re-thinking childhood, and the issues that were raised then still have relevance to the role of children in society today.