War experience in children’s own voices

The Cradle - Allcock Street Boys' School
The Cradle – Allcock Street Boys’ School – December 1915 edition (L48.33 252177)

In our initial forays into the records held within Birmingham archives for material relating to children’s WW1 experiences we have already discovered that what is often missing is the voices of children themselves – and working class children in particular. There are several series of school magazines but they are mainly from the independent or grammar schools. So this find of a bound volume of school newsletters from the Boy’s Department of Allcock Street Board School is a real find. It includes a letter from the headmaster expressing surprise, and delight, that the library would be interested in saving them for posterity being as they were written and compiled by ‘the poorest of slum boys to put on record their school life’.

The handwritten articles include notes, news, essays and (dubious!) humour. The extract above is from December 1915 edited by George Cosnett. A quick search of the 1911 census and birth records suggests that he could have been Sidney George, the eldest son of labourer George Cosnett and his wife Jane and born in Birmingham in Jun Qtr 1902. So he would have been in his final year and about to leave school and find employment at age 14. The poignant Christmas message relays the concern the boys feel both about relatives and also nearly 200 old boys of the school who were serving overseas. It also refers to those who have lost family members. The July edition had reported that “54 of our boys have fathers in the army. Two have been killed, four wounded and one is a prisoner”.

A snippet in the December 1917 issue reported a collection of £4 for the Blinded Heroes Children Fund together with a subscription to the Empire Club Fund for supplying soldiers with tobacco and cigarettes at Christmas.

Come and see these charming publications in our launch event on Monday 12th September 5-6.45pm in the Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham.

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