What information was given to children at the time of the first world war? The world had changed. “We see khaki everywhere now, because we are at war” explains the author of “The army told to the children.” (classmark 1916.6.20) No space is given to discussing the causes of the war, the book simply describes how the army works and what it does. The book’s presentation makes it clear that the book is aimed at older children. It has a text-book like clarity and focuses on the practical. The photographs are the highlight of the book for me: the trenches are shown in detail but in their newly dug, tidy state. The text coolly explains what needs to be done. Soldiers need trenches so that they can shoot at the enemy without being seen themselves. Emergency ‘shelter’ trenches, less than a foot deep with a low ridge of earth at the front, could be dug in half an hour. But each day the army stays in one place, the trenches are improved, deepened so that men can stand upright. Sandbags are used to create a barrier at the front of the trench through which the soldiers can fire. “In the present war hundreds of miles of these trenches have been made, with tunnels between them so that men can move about under cover.”
I can imagine that in war-time even children became theroretical experts about fighting battles, that some child would confidently repeat to others that “There’s danger from shells and bullets, but shells are really not so dangerous because it is difficult to judge the range and take a good shot”.
However, some of the descriptions are more graphic than I would judge suitable for children “men crouching behind a bank of earth, with showers of shrapnel bullets crashing down upon them, and high explosive shells bursting in and around the bank in front, blowing men to pieces, smothering all the front in clouds of smoke and dust and flying fragments …”
So, not suitable for children but a brilliant explanation of how the war was fought – how it was fed, supplied and armed. For most children the war was seen chiefly through fiction – to be covered next week …