You Can Help Your Country

English children's work during the Second World War

Paperback / softback, 328 pages, 234 mm x 156 mm
13 Apr 2011
Institute of Education

Price: £25.99

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Bringing in the harvest. Watching for enemy aircraft. Rescuing survivors from the wreckage of bombed houses. Keeping the family business running when parents were enlisted into war-work. These are just a few examples of how children and young people made substantial contributions to the war effort during the Second World War. You Can Help Your Country: English children’s work during the Second World War reveals the remarkable, hidden history of children as social agents who actively participated in a national effort during a period of crisis. This highly-illustrated volume draws on interviews with people who were school-age during the war, on archives and on school histories which recorded wartime activities as well as children’s accounts of their experiences at the time. Children expressed both positive and negative views of their work: exhilaration and exhaustion, pride and resentment, delight in new freedoms and anger at deprivation. Applying a sociological approach, the authors outline the social history of childhood during the first half of the twentieth century, documenting heated debates about the ‘proper’ activities of children and analysing the thinking that questioned class-based childhoods and schooling and promoted better health and better educational opportunities. In this context, they examine how children responded to appeals to ‘do their bit’ as urged through government poster campaigns, BBC radio broadcast programmes for schools, propaganda films and children’s fiction. This is a stimulating, entertaining and scholarly contribution to the history of childhood, which will enable the reader to think about ideas of childhood today and their rights, as citizens, to participate in the social and political life of their society. It will be essential reading for academics, researchers and students in the field of educational sociology and more widely, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in social history and war studies.

  • Berry Mayall

    Berry Mayall is Professor of Childhood Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. She has worked for many years on research projects studying the daily lives of children and their parents.

  • Virginia Morrow

    Virginia Morrow was Reader in Childhood Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London until 2010. She is currently Senior Research Officer in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford.

1 Starting points
2 Children in social thought between the wars
3 Earners or learners? Work and school 1900-1939
4 Children in wartime
5 Younger children’s work: Doing their bit
6 Bringing in the harvest
7 Older children’s work: Serving their country
8 Children in organisations: Working for freedom
9 Closing points

Think of children and the Second World War, and evacuation comes immediately to mind. Berry Mayall and Virginia Morrow have a different story to tell, one in which all the children of the nation were encouraged to contribute to the war effort.

Hugh Cunningham, Professor Emeritus, University of Kent

Another major contribution to the sociology of childhood by two pioneers in the field.

Sarane Spence Boocock, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University

In raising questions about the nature of children/childhood, this is a timely, relevant, and accessibly written book, and is an ideal text for students in education, history, and sociology.

Harry Hendrick, Visiting Associate Professor, University of Southern Denmark

I will certainly add it to my student reading list.

Dr Martin Parsons, Director of the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies, University of Reading

...Berry Mayall and Virginia Morrow have given us an astute, exhaustively researched book that establishes the 'starting line' for work on post-war childhood in Western societies.

Professor Stephen Lassonde, author of Learning to Forget: Schooling and family life in working-class New Haven, 1870-1940 (Yale, 2005), and Deputy Dean of College, Brown University

Their discussion has resonance beyond the specific example of England during a certain time in history. The links drawn between work and schooling in the war have relevance for contemporary policy debates on the nexus between schooling and child work/labour, in both Western and Eastern countries and on issues of children as participants and citizens, able to make valuable contributions to their communities.

Jan Mason, Emeritus Professor, Social Justice and Social Change Research Group, University of Western Sydney, Australia

... a fascinating account, putting it into a sociological, historical and political context.

Michael Bassey, Nottingham Trent University, British Educational Research Journal, 2012

...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.

Juliet Gardiner, BBC History Magazine, 12:9

'... succeeds in enriching both the view of childhood and the life of the child during the Second World War... inspiring the reader to further critical scrutiny of present-day notions of childhood.'

Judith Scherer, Childhood