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The Life For a Child in the Shadow of WWI

By Louis, Year 9

Louis interviews his Great Uncle on being born during the Great War.

Growing up in the shadow of World War One would not have been easy and who better to know than a 99-year-old veteran who was born two years into World War One. On the 100th anniversary of World War One we should not only remember the fallen but those that were also affected during their childhoods.

George Emmerson was born in 1915 and had a Dad in the Navy and a mum who died when he was only 10 years old. Growing up in East London in the shadow of WW1 was not ever going to be easy, but it didn’t help that he at one point had to live without a dad and then the rest of his life without his mum. This is what happened with quite a lot of children and for kids growing up in the modern generation this would be nearly unimaginable.

He described to me his first memories of seeing his father when he came back on leave: “My dad opened the door I didn’t know who it was to begin with but then I recognised him, he put his kit bag down and gave me a huge cuddle.” As his dad served in the navy for five years, he rarely saw him but he said “He savoured these moments,” as they never came often and he missed his dad dearly.

This shows how a child living after WWI would not experience the same family life as children of the modern generation. But it wasn’t just missing parents that would have affected the children but also witnessing horrific events.

“I was playing in my house, when I went to the front garden and saw my mum speaking to the neighbour. Then, as my head drifted towards the sky I saw an explosion; I was later informed it was a zeppelin being blown out of the sky.”  This must not have been easy for a 3-year-old boy only living with his mum; however these were the repeated images of childhood for some.

As I was told by Mr Emmerson there was some events that kept you going like letters from your father telling you how they were getting on and also knowing that they were still alive. “The stories he told me were very interesting and as a child very entertaining, this was something I enjoyed through him being in the navy and being away.” As a child it wasn’t all grim as Mr Emmerson had told me. “An interesting story was how sailors were not allowed to have moustaches and so had to be clean shaven.” Was one in a number of stories Mr Emmerson told me he remembered.

A few years after his dad returned from serving in the navy his mother died. Many children lived with the loss of a parent; usually a father. They would have to grow up not knowing a parent and this would not always lead to an enjoyable childhood. Children would find themselves doing a lot of house work and chores, due to them not having both their parents around.

Children would not always have the amount of food needed due to ships that imported the food being bombed; trying to grow up as a child and not having the right supplements would lead to many children being unhealthy and malnourished. However after the war was one there were many tea parties in which people attended. These tea parties would also leave a mark on young children’s mind as people with lost limbs would just stroll around the parties.

“Some people might say that life after the war was tough but growing up then was something that nobody else will ever experience,” said Mr Emmerson.

Return to WWI Centenary

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