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ILN During WWI: Women and Children during the War

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ILN During WWI: Women and Children during the War
ILN During WWI: Women and Children during the War
On the Home Front: Women and Children during the First World War

Before the end of 1914, and despite Lord Kitchener's famous "Your Country Needs You" enlistment campaign in January 1915, it was clear that voluntary service would not be enough to keep pace with the rate casualties during the of First World War. By March 1916, the government had no alternative; compulsory military service was enacted, first for single men, and later expanding to include married men, age 18 to 41. With these men enlisted into war and sent off to the trenches, their posts and professional responsibilities were left vacant and society and the war effort turned to women to bridge the gap. While conventional gender roles remained largely unchanged during and after the First World War, women entered traditionally male occupied professions to do their duty during the war's duration.

Women took positions as nurses, ambulance drivers, chauffeurs, factory workers supplying war munitions and parts, and in rare cases, became soldiers. They also occupied more traditional roles such as caring for the children of working women, entertaining the troops, and tending the graves of fallen soldiers. While their war-time contributions were lauded, propaganda and events honouring women's efforts were underscored with the expectation that such assistance would end with the war, and women would return to the home. At the end of the war, some women were happy to give up their war-time roles and return to peace-time normalcy, but others, some widowed by war, needed their new wage paying positions to support the family that war left behind.

The lives of children were also drastically changed by the outbreak of war. Many of them lost fathers to the fighting, some whom would never return, and mothers to work, significantly changing the landscape of home. School life was also disrupted, especially for children living near combat areas. As one of the collection items illustrates, children in the Rheims region of France whose homes and schools were destroyed attended lessons underground in the famous Caves Pommery. Despite the fact that children struggled to understand and cope with the changes and losses around them, they were expected to carry on as before. Regardless of this expectation, children were affected by news and propaganda from war-time reporting and an examination of schoolwork reveals a deep anxiety, as well as an active engagement, with regards to the war.