Posted: 04 August 2014

The beginning of World War One and our work

A hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany and the First World War erupted. Our archivist, Gabrielle St John-McAlister, looks back at some of the key ways in which the outbreak of war affected our work.

An immediate impact

World War One had an immediate impact on our charity. It was the first time in our history we took in over 1000 children - at the time, we ran children's homes - an increase that was a direct consequence of the war.

young boy who was left alone at the beginning of World War OneAs men, primarily, joined up many children - such as the young boy in the profile to the right - were left without guardians.

The rise in admissions and the increase in the costs related to maintaining our support for children caused concern but much good work was done by our war emergency fund. Not only did we help children affected by the war at home, the young people also actively contributed to the war effort.

Girls at our home in Leeds, pictured at the beginning of this story, voted unanimously that money sent to them for treats should instead be spent on making socks for the soldiers. By the end of 1914 the girls had knitted an incredible 13,611 pairs of socks, compared to the 8527 pairs they knitted the previous year.

Meanwhile, at our home in Pyrford the children agreed that 'a little help is worth a peck of pity' and gave up much of their playtime to also knit socks, mufflers and mittens for the troops.

Within five months of the war starting, 500 boys - known as 'old boys' in the newspaper clipping at the beginning of this story - and many staff members had joined the armed forces. Sixteen of the boys are known to have died during the war. We were understandably proud of our boys and staff who served and held memorial services for those who fell. The first of these services, honouring six old boys, was held in December 1914 at St Paul's Cathedral.

As 1914 drew to a close and the war showed no signs of ending, our recognised that it had 'been given a most prominent part in meeting the nation's needs' and acknowledged it was 'no small honour . . . to give shelter to more than a hundred and fifty children, from families whose breadwinner has been called away to serve his country'.

By Gabrielle St John-McAllister - Research team
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Before we existed: The founding of The Children's Society

Posted: 22 August 2013

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