Boy Mascots, Orphans and Heroes: The State, the Family and Cultural Heritage, 1914–1918

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This essay seeks to look further at adolescents and younger children who were militarised, and to explore the contradictions and complicities of the State and the family through an examination of boys as mascots, orphans, and war heroes. It highlights the impact of contradictory policies on military age that sustained traditional positions for boys in the Armed Services, while incoherently policing underage voluntarism at that same time that official recruitment campaigns targeted youths. The paper emphasises the role of visual and material culture, which strengthened boys’ resolve to ‘pass as a man’. The family is positioned as playing an important role in being unable or unwilling to restrain the will of adolescents. It explores how military masculine heritage was communicated through the male line when families dressed up boys in miniature uniforms or enabled them to act as regimental mascots. As well, the paper considers how orphaned and stray children in Europe negotiated kinship-like relationships with Allied armies of ‘temporary fathers’. Complex attitudes to childhood and youth are identified in flexible attitudes to child victimhood versus the valorisation of boy heroes, assessing the issue of children killed or wounded in service to the State. The essay seeks to explain the impact of material and visual culture, rituals and photography, which evoked a range of emotional and social relationships to the military at a time of particular significance in the life of children and adolescent boys.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-626
JournalCultural and Social History
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2021


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