Children at War


The loss of men of military age was partly made up through the employment of boys.  The school leaving age was 14, but in some cases magistrates were prepared to turn a blind eye to younger pupils who worked instead of attending school.  In February 1916, the chairman of magistrates at Llanhilleth, in agreeing to ignore the case of a 13 year old who was working, declared “There is a very valuable asset in these boys between 13 and 14 years of age … They are crying out for agricultural and other labourers, and here are great strong lusty boys of this age running to waste.”  Such openly expressed contempt for education was, however, strongly criticised, with the local press pointing out that “it will not be found that children of well-do-do parents will be taken from school when they are 13 years of age in order to prematurely realise their value as ‘assets’ to the country.  Older boys replaced men in a number of occupations.  A Blaenavon delegate to the Welsh Federation of Labour Conference in June 1916 claimed that “There are many children of 13 working ion the pits”. This was not without its problems.  The South Wales Argus complained:  “On every side we hear complaints about the negligence and uncouthness of Newport tram conductors.  Many of the lads  are insolent, most of them have very little consideration for the women , children and aged or infirm persons…”