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Children of War

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Children of War. The Second World War through the Eyes of a Generation. By Susan Goodman. (John Murray Publishers; Ltd.: 2005. Pg. 352.) ISBN: 0719561221.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - October 18, 2006

Throughout the 1930's, as war with Germany seemed each day to draw nearer, life began to change in Great Britain. At first the changes were subtle, but as Britain geared up to a war footing, the changes became more noticeable - in particular, school children in some of the large cities and industrial centers began practice evacuation drills, many families began building bomb shelters in their backyards, and Jewish refugees including large numbers of unaccompanied children, began to arrive in Britain.

For adults coming to terms with what was happening was one thing, but for children, it was an entirely different situation. While many children might have heard stories about the Great War to End all Wars, or who knew someone who had lost a loved one in the war, how did this information play into their understanding of the war to come? When evacuation plans were set into place, did the children involved truly understand what being evacuated to the countryside really meant and how did they feel about? As the war came into their lives with all too much reality, were they scared? Did they understand that at any moment they or someone they knew might die? How did they adapt to rationing and the inevitable shortages that followed? Did some kids turn into adults overnight? Were they anxious to 'grow-up' so that they could join the battle, or join the war effort in some other manner?

Based upon the numerous social histories of Britain from 1939-1945, it can be very hard to tell just what was going on in the minds of British children. While these volumes may examine what children did, and what their day to day lives were like, they do little to help us understand their thought processes or their emotional state. Susan Goodman has rectified this situation in her book, Children of War: The Second World War through the Eyes of a Generation. This compelling volume presents an overview of the war years, and the years immediately preceding the war from the unique perspective of children that actually lived through the war.

This work concentrates on the experiences of children in Britain, both native born and refugees, who were part of the 'under eighteen' cadre during the war. Goodman has compiled a fascinating selection of their personal reminiscences and actual writings that were composed while they were children, and interweaving them with her own historical narrative, she presents a children's view of the war, while at the same time offering an eye-opening and insightful survey on the lives of children in wartime Britain.

This book begins with a brief overview of what life was like for children in the pre-war Britain in 1930's and then takes the reader through the entire war. The chapters in the text are organized thematically and chronologically. In addition, the material that Goodman used in the text was garnered from her own extensive research and from individuals from every walk of life and who lived throughout Britain during the war. Throughout, this text presents the opinions, thoughts, and feeling about all aspects of life in during the war from dealing with the uncertainty of the Doodlebug attacks to the games that children played during the war.

Children of War is a ground-breaking social history of the war, and it is a mesmerizing book to read! This book will enthrall everyone from historians to young children wishing to learn about other children living through trying times. In addition, for those that were, themselves, children during the war, this book will help them to reconnect with their past and in illustrating the diversity of wartime experiences that children endured. This book is also a must read for anyone who has a parent or grandparent that was a child in Britain between 1939 and 1945. For the newer generations, this book gives the reader insights into what life was like for children during this momentous period in history. Highly recommended!

Related Reviews:

The Quiet Heroes, by Bernard Edwards
A riveting history of the British merchant seamen who plied the U-Boat infested waters of the Atlantic throughout the dark days of World War II.

An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation, By Tom Brokaw.
In this volume, Brokaw has compiled a compelling and poignant collection of letters that chronicle the personal histories of the men and women who grew up during the Depression and who endured the horrors of WWII.

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