War and Social Upheaval: World War I--Displaced Children


Figure 1.--This English boy was photograhed after World War I. The medals he wears are the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. They were probably awarded to his father posthmously. (He would be less likely to be wearing them if his father was alive.) There were in the 1920s millions of children throughout Europe just like this boy. Image courtesy of the MB collection.

World War I caused mass slaughter on a basis never before exoerienced in Europe. The number of father killed in every country is difficult to fathom. The loss of life in all the major combatent countries was astromical, although smaller in America which entered the War in 1917 and did not commit troops in large numbers until 1918. The number of orphans was extremely high in Belgium and other areas where fighging took palace. ted. A friend tells me that early Life Magazine articles had some images of European children showing period clothes. I think in 1917-18 they ran a series of articles on French children who had lost their fathers in the War. The magazine I think was asking for donations to help these families. The series contained lots of pictures of these, sadly mostly young, fatherless children. If anyone has access to a good University library, these Life Magazine images should be available. There apparently was a variety of boys clothes pictured. Another problem was that while many children were not orphaned, there were millions without fathers. As the father in the 1910s was the principal, if not thde only, income earner, this meant that millions of children were reduced to poverty or very close to it. Many had extended familes to support or least help support them. Many dis not. The involvement of women in the workforce and the need for widowed mothers to suppot themselves and their family has been a significant factor contributing to emacipation of women in Europe and America. In America the participation of women in the workforce was mpre important than than the widow problem. Notably in America and much of Europe, the emancipation of women ocurred immeduately after World War I.

Battlefield Slaughter

World War I caused mass slaughter on a basis never before exoerienced in Europe. The number of father killed in every country is difficult to fathom. The loss of life in all the major combatent countries was astromical, although smaller in America which entered the War in 1917 and did not commit troops in large numbers until 1918.

Orphans

The number of orphans was extremely high in Belgium and other areas where fighting took palace. Large numbers of orphanages were established to care for the children. Many were sponsored by religious orders. Funds were created in America, Britain, and other countries to support these orphanages. A HBC reader tells me that early Life Magazine articles had some images of European children showing period clothes. I think in 1917-18 they ran a series of articles on French children who had lost their fathers in the War. The magazine I think was asking for donations to help these families. The series contained lots of pictures of these, sadly mostly young, fatherless children. If anyone has access to a good University library, these Life Magazine images should be available. There apparently was a variety of boys clothes pictured. Another problem was that while many children were not orphaned, there were millions without fathers. As the father in the 1910s was the principal, if not the only, income earner, this meant that millions of children were reduced to poverty or very close to it. Many had extended familes to support or least help support them. Many did not. Many of these children and their mothers lived in poverty. Some mothers in desperation abamdoned theur children.

Women

The involvement of women in the workforce and the need for widowed mothers to suppot themselves and their family has been a significant factor contributing to emacipation of women in Europe and America. In America the participation of women in the workforce was mpre important than than the widow problem. Notably in America and much of Europe, the emancipation of women ocurred immeduately after World War I.

Country Trends

The best publicized tragedy assocaited with World War I was the Belgian War orphans. In the case of Belgian, massive quanities of food assistance flowed from the United States. Given the huge casulaties there were as a result of the War virtually millions of children who were orphaned or had lost their fathers--reducing them to poverty. This was the situatin in virtually every major beligerant country, except the United States. Although the War had for the most part not been fought on German soil, the economic crisis at the end of the War brought real deprivation to the German people. There was malnutrition and starvation and the children were the most affected. Few other countries came to Germany's assistance, except the Dutch. Further east, in Russia racked by Revolution and Civil war following World War I, conditions were even worse.

Refugees

Germany launched World War I by attacking France through Belgium (August 1914). The German Army poured across first the Belgian frontier and within a month the French frontier as well (1914). Only the Miracle on the Marne (September 1914) prevented the Germans from reaching Paris and almost certainly winning the War. Civilians fled the invading German Army in large numbers. Some of the Belgians sought refuge in the Netherlands. Most headed south toward France and were joined by French refugees as well. The Germans occupied most of Belgium and areas of northern France until the final months of the War. The German Army seized cthe civilian food stocks. The Belians would have starved without American food aid. Thus France throughout the War had a sizeable refugee problem. By the end of the War there wete more than 2 million refugees in France. At the same time the Germans struck at France, the Russians in the East honoring their treaty with France (1914). Attacked in East Prussia. The Germans gained a great victory. Fighting would, however, go on for 3 years, at first mostly in what is now Poland, but eventully spreding into the Baltics and Ukraine. The refugee problem may have been greater than in the West, but with much less outsie aid because it was very difficult getting American food aid into Russia and the Central Powers had little food to spare. In the Balkans, the Central Powers invaded and ovvupied Serbia (1915). The Great Serbian Retreat created large numbers of refugees. And during the Central Powers occupation conditions were very difficult. Some food began to reach Serbia as the Allies reopned a Balkan front (1917). A German offensive broke through the Italian lines (1917) creating large numbers of Italian refugees. Europe was on the brink of starvation when the War finally ended. Even in France with much of its agricultural sector still in tact, it was not adequate to feed rhe huge numbers of refugees. Only American food aid prevented mass starvation.

American Relief Assistance

World War I created a humanitarian dissater unprecedentefd in world history. From the earliest period of the War, American food was used to prevent mass starvation. First it was used to prevent starvation in Belgium when the Germany Army seized stocks of food from civilians to feed their soldiers. Throughout the War, America fed millions od Belgians. There were special feeding programs for children. After the War American food aid fed people in central Europe, including their former enemy Germany. Bolshevick Russia at first refused to participate, by by 1921 the Bolshevicks finally agreed to accept the American assistance to avert famine. These parograms were administered bt future American president Herbert Hoover. No one really know how many people America saved during and after the war, but it certainly totaled many millions of Europeans.






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Created: July 13, 2002
Last updated: 4:09 AM 9/15/2015