Propaganda was also used to recruit children as a labour force. Numerous appeals, proclamations and posters exhorted children to place their labour, time and energy at the disposal of the war effort and thus make their contribution to winning the war.
The activities that children were used for were very varied in nature and ranged from voluntary efforts to obligatory, officially prescribed services. These included the so-called Patriotic Collections, which involved activities such as foraging for wild natural produce (grass seeds, nettles, berries and leaves from berry plants for the production of teas), collecting materials for recycling (paper, tin and lead scrap, clothes, wartime metal collection drives) or collecting money for the Red Cross. Children were also exhorted to participate in appeals for donations, in campaigns such as Gold gab ich für Eisen (‘I gave gold for iron’), in providing refreshments at railway stations, sending charitable gifts to the front or distributing them in hospitals, looking after the wounded, harvest or forestry work, agricultural work and providing messenger services for various authorities, among many other activities.
The appeals for collection drives gained in importance as the war continued and were hugely successful in all the Crown Lands. One reason for this was that the schools made an active contribution to mobilizing the children. As early as summer 1914, the Imperial-Royal Ministry for Culture and Education decreed various measures calling upon school children to engage in activities for the common good. Some of these activities were organized by individual schools while other drives were regulated by supra-regional authorities. In order to institutionalize and coordinate these patriotic initiatives the ministries of War and Education jointly created the War Welfare Office, which was responsible for organizing appeals for donations, collections and the recycling of raw materials. This cooperation ensured that the collection drives were a universal success.
However, the latter was also due to the great willingness of children and young people to participate in these collecting campaigns and work initiatives. Their enthusiasm for the war and participation in these activities resulted from the intensive propaganda to which they were subjected, as well as the patriotism of their teachers, the nationalist bent of the teaching and the glorification of war in their schoolbooks and songs. Towards their parents children became messengers of a war ideology, motivating them to support these collection drives as well. Competition between the children was deliberately encouraged, and results were entered in a register that was kept at their school. Especially industrious pupils received a reward, for example an iron commemorative ring for excelling in the Gold gab ich für Eisen drive.
On the whole, the mobilization of children was most effective during the first half of the war. However, as hunger and privation began to make themselves felt among the civilian population, appeals for collections became less and less successful. Patriotic Drives were effected under duress and ultimately had devastating consequences for children’s health.
Translation: Sophie Kidd
Audoin-Rouzeau, Stephane: Kinder und Jugendliche, in: Hirschfeld, Gerhard/Krumeich, Gerd/Renz, Irene (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg, Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürrich 2009, 135-141
Gestrich, Andreas: “Leicht trennt sich nur die Jugend vom Leben” – Jugendliche im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: Spilker, Rolf/Ulrich, Bernd: Der Tod als Maschinist. Der industrialisierte Krieg 1914-1918. Eine Ausstellung des Museums Industriekultur Osnabrück im Rahmen des Jubiläums „350 Jahre Westfälischer Friede“ 17.Mai – 23.August 1998, 32-45
Hämmerle, Christa: Von „patriotischen“ Sammelaktionen, „Kälteschutz“ und „Liebesgabe“ – die „Schulfront“ der Kinder im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: Beiträge zur historischen Sozialkunde (1994) 1, 21-29
Healy, Maureen:Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire. Total War and Everyday Life in World War I, Cambridge 2004, 211-257