A Child's War by Mike Brown

Updated: 4 days ago

A Child's War: Growing Up On The Home Front 1939-45 by Mike Brown

(Sutton Publishing, 2000)

My parents were born in 1941, so I grew up on tales about growing up in World War Two. When I found A Child's War by Mike Brown in our local secondhand bookshop, I was drawn in by the plethora of photos.

Nothing makes a description more vivid than pictures, and I was quickly hooked by the period images so unlike the world we live in today but still comfortably within living memory. I was also fascinated by the subtitle: Growing Up On The Home Front 1939-45.

Mike Brown has arranged the chapters thematically rather that chronologically, although A Child's War does begin with a short introduction, which goes through the war year by year to set the scene. From then on, the book looked at different aspects of childhood during the war years, carefully structuring each chapter using headings.

This was sensible given the subject matter, because there's nothing like childhood for bringing out the thought association as one experience leads to a memory of another and so on. In fact, this wasn't a personal memoir. It was just a lovely book carefully crafted by someone who lived through those years and cared very much that there should be proper records of what it had been like growing up in World War Two.

Children in the UK, predominantly whom A Child's War considers, had their lives turned up side down by the war and their experiences, not often recorded in the face of a focus on adult bravery and resilience, were unique compared to other age groups.

Evacuation was introduced in large part of the country: not just the south of England, but also further afield in urban areas close to factories and docks that would be likely targets for bombing. This involved closing the schools, transferring all the children from the area to host families in safer ('reception') areas and billeting them there for the duration of the war. While every family just wanted their kids to be safe, this led to some heart-wrenching family separations for very long periods indeed.

The cover of A Child's War by Mike Brown shows two boys sitting at school desks wearing helmets.
A Child's War by Mike Brown

Just as adults were recruited at home for campaigns such as 'Dig for Victory' and 'Make Do and Mend', so younger people were encouraged to help the war effort by collecting salvage, volunteering with the Red Cross and St John's Ambulance or even acting as messengers for adult group such as Air Raid Prevention and the Home Guard.

Many of these activities were facilitated by the Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides. Those organisations were particularly active in wartime and attendance was generally far higher back then than now. Even so, these were dangerous if exciting activities and the notion of children being encouraged to do them was an interesting one. The prevailing view of the time was that children were scarcely noticed by adults and would therefore be more likely to move around without being detected.

A Child's War was very honest about children's lives in wartime. There was no idealisation of the experiences from Mike Brown, no gungho attitude to what had happened. Instead, what I took away from A Child's War was how resilient the children of wartime had been and how brave. Photos, drawings, adverts and the content of leaflets aimed at children were reproduced in great number here, and these increased my enjoyment of the eyewitness memories recorded from children. The latter memories were often recorded at some length, and I really felt that I had glimpsed something of the individual experiences.

Thank you for reading the second of three posts this week on the theme of childhood. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, and I'll see you on Friday for the final post.

You can buy A Child’s War by Mike Brown as an e-book here. You can subscribe to my blog here.

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of The Chalet School in Exile by Elinor Brent Dyer here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life by Adam Greenfield here.

If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Mountains of Channadran by Susan Dexter here.

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