Birmingham Children of War go public

On 11th March the project went public with an afternoon event at the Library of Birmingham.  Over 200 people participated in one or more of the activities on offer which included a pop-up exhibition, a Children’s Trail and Children’s Craft activities, a choir singing popular WW1 songs and scouts performing semaphore.

The event also saw the launch of the Birmingham Children of War Learning and Resource Guide and an associated display.  The Guide will be made available via pdf download very shortly.

We are grateful to the support given to the event by the staff of the Library of Birmingham especially Archives and Collections and the  Children’s Library;  the wardrobe department of the Birmingham Rep for the loan of the costume; the Midland Hospitals Choir and Phoenix Singers, the Cole Valley South 220th Scout Troop and Iris of Knit and Natter. And of course to our funders: the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The selection of photos below include contributions by official event photographer Vik Chandla, and volunteers Maggie Brownlie and Keith Clenton.

Liz Palmer

Semaphore Signalling with the Scouts

Some of the Birmingham Children of War volunteers have just spent a couple of evenings working with the Cole Valley South 220th Scout Troop based in Moseley.  In the first session we shared our knowledge of the types of activities that Birmingham Scouts were engaged with during the First World War. Today’s scouts were impressed with the range of tasks and how much responsibility young people were given.  As a practical activity, we then made semaphore flags and made an attempt at starting to learn the semaphore alphabet. On the second evening, the activities gave the scouts the opportunity to re-visit the semaphore alphabet, to practise a couple of message sends/receives and perform a final relay of messages.  The evening ended with a true/false quiz based on the information about scouting in Birmingham from the first week. Those young, receptive minds did well!


Presentation at the Gunmakers Arms

On Wednesday night volunteers from the Children of War Project gave a presentation at the historic Gunmakers Arms on Bath Street, near St Chads.  This pub, now owned by the Two Towers Brewery, has been putting on a varied programme of heritage related topics. Originally held in one of the small bar areas they are now proving so popular that they’ve moved them into a larger space in the brewery at the back. But the audience still sit at pub tables with their drinks, whilst listening to the talks in an informal atmosphere.

There was a good turnout for our event with several members of FoBAH and the Birmingham History Network also present.  Nine volunteers made short presentations based on their areas of research during the project so far: Education, Health, Juvenile Delinquency, Child Migration Homes, Hockley, Youth Employment, Nurseries, Belgian Refugees and photographs. As well as (hopefully) entertaining the audience it was also a good opportunity to share each others findings with other members of the group.

We had some very positive feedback including:

“Thank you for such an interesting evening. Many thanks to the presenters: your talks were focussed and interesting” 

“An interested and well researched evening”

“Very interesting and informative talk”

The content will gradually make its way on to this site over the next few weeks as well so if you couldn’t be there on the evening you haven’t completely missed out. You will, however, have missed the tear-jerking finale: Robert’s live rendition of his  “Imagined letter – from a devoted son to his Father” which had a few folk weeping into their beer 😉


WW1 FoodFest at Avoncroft


Several of our volunteers ventured out of the city last night to the WW1 1916 FoodFest at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. It was organised by Professor Maggie Andrews of Worcester University together with the ‘World War One in the Vale’ project.

Alison, Robert and myself all bravely entered into the spirit of the event and took along our efforts at a couple of WW1 recipes; trench cake and eggless sponges.  None of us won the Bake-off but we all received some positive comments on the feedback forms. It was interesting to try out the efforts of others – I’m always amazed at how different the results can be despite all following the same basic recipe.

In addition to cake tasting there was also bread and jam. The Jam of course from fruit grown in the Vale of Evesham and bread made from WW1 recipe and milled from flour produced in the mill at Avoncroft. We also had brief tour which included the seeing the mill. Not the iconic post-mill, which is currently out of action, but the Edwardian upright stone Lister Mill powered by electricity. Also on the torch-lit tour was the Toll-house with the baking oven which was used communally by villagers.

The exhibition panels told us much more about life on the Home Front in the villages of the Vale and we were particularly keen to read the panels relating to the contribution of children.

Prof Maggie Andrews gave two very informative and entertaining presentations about the food situation in 1916 and the importance of food, particularly Christmas pudding, in the seasonal festivities that year.  We learnt why there was a shortage of eggs; a combination of shortages of grain and the diversion of eggs from domestic consumption to those most in need of good nutrition including the growing numbers of soldiers in convalescent hospitals. We are hoping that Maggie will come and give us a talk in Birmingham and we can discover more about the differences (if any) between urban and rural life for children in WW1 (Watch this space!)

Liz Palmer

Images from Project Launch

A selection of images from our project launch. Visitors were treated to a pop-up exhibition featuring some of the archive and library material volunteers have identified during the preparatory phase, grouped into the themes we have started to identify. These include schools and education; health; child and youth employment; children in care; youth justice and Belgian refugees. Visitors were also fascinated by the film footage of children in Birmingham in WW1 courtesy of some of the British Pathe newsreels.

Prof. Ian Grosvenor, FoBAH chair and Director of Voices of War and Peace introduced the project and spoke eloquently about the impact of war on a generation of children and young people which would resonate through several decades.  Liz Palmer, Project Co-ordinator outlined the next steps for the project and made a successful appeal for more volunteers – and its not too late for anyone else to come forward. Simply email us at and we’ll be in touch.