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.

Birmingham’s Civic Recreation League

2016-08-24 13.42.31-1 (2)

Increasing numbers of girls and young women entering into munition and other types of factory work, rather than their traditional roles in service or as shop girls, seems to have caused collective panic about the risks to their moral welfare. Working long hard hours, including shift work, still left them with free time and more money in their pockets than they had previously. And with many fathers absent at the front, and mothers also engaged in work outside the home teenagers, and girls in particular, experienced far more freedom.

In November 1916, Neville Chamberlain, in his role as Lord Mayor, proposed a Civic Recreation League which would co-ordinate and expand existing voluntary clubs and provide municipal funding to  ‘see that they did not come to harm, and to provide them with some alternative to the streets, the cinema, or the public house’.

A volume of ephemera including posters and flyers advertising the activities of many of the clubs and societies set up under the banner of the Civic Recreation League can be found in the Local Studies collections at the Library of Birmingham (LF36.99 Acc No. 408343) and viewed in the Wolfson Centre by appointment. It will also be included in our pop-up exhibition for the project launch on Monday 12th September. Included are several flyers for the Stirchley Girls Club for Munition and Other Workers held at the Stirchley Institute on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and alternate Fridays. The activities on offer included singing, drama, military drill and Swedish Gymnastics and ‘DANCING’.

Project Launch 12th September

It’s just over one week away till the official launch of our project during Birmingham Heritage Week on Monday 12th September in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research on Level 4 of the Library of Birmingham.

Over the last few weeks volunteers from Friends of Birmingham Archives & Heritage (FoBAH) have been looking at a variety of WWI archives, library and online resources to illustrate some of the themes that we shall be exploring during the Birmingham Children of War Project which is funded by West Midlands Heritage Lottery Fund. Some of this material including photographs, school log books, newspapers, Coroner’s inquests, personal reminiscences and film clips from the Pathe film archive will be on display in a pop-up exhibition.

Hosted jointly by Birmingham Archives & Collections, Voices of War and Peace and FoBAH there will also be a short address by Prof Ian Grosvenor of the School of Education at University of Birmingham. Project Co-ordinator, Liz Palmer, together with other FoBAH members will be on hand to explain more about the project; what we hope to achieve and how more people can get involved over the next 6 months. There is scope for more researchers to delve deeper into the themes we have already identified and we would also welcome anyone with social media skills to ensure we regularly share our findings via this blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile if you can help publicise the project launch you can download a pdf of the poster here: Project Launch – poster to display in your community or workplace.

Over the next 7 days we’ll be posting a short blog relating to 7 of the key themes we’ve identified so far.

War time troubles of two children’s charities

Two Birmingham childrens’ charities experienced funding issues during WWI leaving both in a precarious condition. Solution: amalgamation and the resultant organisation is still going 100 years later.

The Birmingham Boy’s and Girls’ Union, operators of the Woodlands Adventure Camp in Aldridge is one of Birmingham’s oldest children’s charities. It came into being in 1919 as a result of an amalgamation of two older charities; the Birmingham Street Children’s Union and the Birmingham Working Boys’ Home.

The Birmingham Street Children’s Union had been founded in 1906 by Canon Carnegie, rector of Birmingham Cathedral from 1903 to 1913. (In 1913 he was appointed Chaplain to the House of Commons and in 1916 married Mary Crowninshield Endicott, the widow of Joseph Chamberlain). The war had an impact on the organisation both in its activities but also on its fundraising. By 1915 there was concern that it’s future was uncertain and that it had been forced to reduce the number of clubs it operated and an appeal was made for further funds. It highlighted the number of former members who were in the Army and Navy.

Birmingham Street Children's Union - Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 20 September 1915
Birmingham Post – Monday 20 September 1915

A large proportion of its funds came from flag days, which had become an increasing popular method of fundraising from about 1912.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fundraising during WWI  also became a major issue for The Birmingham Working Boys’ Home which  had been founded in 1879 by a Major Fordyce as a night shelter for homeless and destitute boys. Soon after this date it became apparent that to have a lasting and life-changing impact that a greater level of intervention was required. The organisation took on the rent of “Gordon Hall” in Deritend with the aim of providing boys from the working classes, with no parents or none who could support them, a home and the means of learning a trade until they could fend for themselves. Being placed in Deritend they were surrounded by manufacturers and other possible employers and it seems they were supportive and keen to take on youngsters from the Home.  Funding came primarily from subscribers with some financial assistance from the Poor Law Guardians.

Birmingham Working Boy's Home, Deritend
1886 Design for Birmingham Working Boys’ Home, Deritend

By 1914 there were on average 28 boys resident in the Home at any one time. The 1907 Probation Act had given magistrates powers to remand boys to such establishments instead of imposing punishment and this was a route by which an increasing proportion of the residents arrived in the Home. But the Report for 1915-1919 held in Archives & Heritage at the Library of Birmingham describes how the impact of the War on local working conditions and it’s fundraising capabilities led to to its inability to continue as an independent organisation.

An increase in wages paid by local manufacturers meant that those above 16 years enjoyed greater independence and were less willing to stay in the Home with its inevitable rules and restrictions. At the same time greater numbers of younger boys, “owing to the removal of their fathers’ restraining influence”, due to their being away at the Front,  were being brought in front of the Juvenile for a variety of offences. The Home felt obliged to take in any referrals that came their way but the funding that came with 12 to 14 year olds was less than with their older counterparts. The annual deficit grew from approximately £80 in 1914 to over £438 and by the end of 1918 the organisation had debts of £1411 13s 8d.  The Committee also seemed to have been reluctant to make a dent in the deficit by means of appeals to subscribers.This was partly due to the average number of residents falling to 16 in both 1917 and 1918 but was also probably a reflection of the amount of fundraising and charitable donations that were of necessity going to the War effort and to the new charities supporting wounded servicemen and providing comforts to those at the Front.

Although the Committee felt they could no longer continue to operate the Home independently they were keen that some of their work should continue and so took the decision in 1919 to amalgamate with the Birmingham Street Childrens’ Union  under the banner of the Birmingham Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.

During the course of the Children of War Project we hope to uncover more about these and other children’s organisations. Information gathered will be shared online and in a learning guide to be published in March 2017. If you are interested in any aspect of childrens’ lives during WWI please follow the Children of War project via this blog – or even better get in touch and volunteer to join our growing band of researchers.

Liz Palmer – Project co-ordinator




Official Launch in Birmingham Heritage Week

The offical launch event for the Birmingham Children of War Project will take place during Birmingham Heritage Week on Monday 12th September, 5-6.45pm in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research at the Library of Birmingham.

Held in partnership with the Voices of War and Peace: First World War Engagement Centre, it will showcase some of the resources held within Birmingham Archives including school log books, children’s home records, WWI postcards, maternity and child health records, Belgian Refugee records, photographs and newspapers.In addition there will be a short address by Prof. Ian Grosvenor, Professor of Urban Educational History at the University of Birmingham who is also Director of Voices of the War and Peace Centre and Chair of Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (FoBAH).

Come along to hear more about the project and how you can become involved as a volunteer.

More details of the event (and other related Birmingham Heritage Week events) can be seen here:

Children of War in Birmingham

Birmingham Children of War

Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage announce support of Heritage Lottery Fund for their Birmingham Children of War project. This will explore the lived experiences of children born during and living through the tumultuous years of the First World War.

Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage has received nearly £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for it’s Birmingham Children of War project. Awarded through HLF’s First World War: then and now programme, the project will focus on experiences of children growing up or being born in Birmingham during the tumultuous years of WWI.

Marking the Centenary of the First World War, this project will enable local people to come together to focus on uncovering the largely untold story of children’s experience of war from a Birmingham perspective, thanks to National Lottery players. The project will be enlisting the help of local volunteers to research archival resources to find examples what life was like for a child living at that time, and the impact war had on their everyday lives. In addition, we will be seeking new material in the form of photographs, diaries, memoirs and other mementoes that can be digitised and shared via an interactive website.
Over 500,000 children in the UK lost their father during this conflict, a tragic statistic that undoubtedly had a huge effect on children’s lives. This project aims to uncover stories about individual children that help us better understand the impact the War had on their lives both immediately and over the following decades.

Commenting on the award, Professor Ian Grosvenor, Chair of FoBAH said: “We are very pleased to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is an important part of the city’s history and huge gaps remain in our knowledge of children’s experiences during and after the First World War. We hope many people join this journey to research and share those experiences”.

Liz Palmer, will be managing the Project which will run until the end of February 2017. The main launch will take place at an event on Monday 12th September, during Birmingham Heritage Week, to which all FoBAH members and the public will be invited. We are hoping that many FoBAH members, together with members of the local community, students and schools will want to get involved with the project by researching archive resources and helping to add to our, as yet limited, knowledge of children’s experiences during the war and in the immediate aftermath.