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15 October 2014
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About This Site > Learning Zone > Families: Faith in Wartime

Activities for Families: Faith in Wartime

In learning about the past it is always best to start in an environment that is familiar. All children have some understanding of the world of today, which they can use as a point of reference to compare against historical events. It is important for children to view the world in which they live as a continuation of society in the 1940s, not as completely detached from it.

The activities below will help children consider how faith influenced the actions of people in Britain during World War Two. These activities should supplement formal education by giving a sense of what life was like in the 1940s, rather than a detailed factual knowledge of it. They are meant to be engaging - both for children and for the adults helping them - but not to appear to be part of a structured curriculum. You can do one or all of the activities, depending upon time.

Conscientious objectors

Activity 1

Explain to your child/children about the introduction of conscription. Tell them how, on 3 September 1939, all men in Britain aged between 18 and 40 became legally liable for call-up under the new National Service (Armed Forces) Act. The age limit was raised to 51 at the end of 1941, when single women between 20 and 30 also were required, for the first time, to do some kind of war service. More information about conscription is available in the Timeline (1939).

Discuss with your child/children what objections they would raise themselves to the possibility of going to war, and explain how for some people such views would be linked to their religious faith. At the time of World War Two, for example, fighting in any war went against some people's faith. Others simply did not believe in war, and others still were afraid to go to war. Discuss the fact that in World War Two in Britain most conscientious objectors were Christians.

Using the information box below, you could then explain what happened to people who objected, and how even though they did not fight, they still often did dangerous work to help support the war effort.

Conscientious objectors

Conscientious objectors had to attend a tribunal. The chairman was normally a county court judge. Every tribunal panel had to have a trade union member on it and also, if the conscientious objector applicant was female, a woman member. Conscientious objectors were asked to present witnesses to give a character reference.

The tribunal could exempt people from military service, recommend alternative civilian service, recommend they join the non-combatant core of the armed forces, or dismiss the application. About 60,000 men and 1,000 women applied for exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection. Almost 3,000 were given unconditional exemption. Around 18,000 applications were dismissed. The rest were either recommended to do alternative civilian work, or put on the military service register as non-combatants.

Non-combatant work involved duties such as bomb disposal, or working in medical units. Civilian work included agricultural, forestry, social or hospital work, and towards the end of the war coal-mining was added to the list. Many tribunals wanted to send male objectors away from home, so that they made similar sacrifices to those of fighting men.

Read the following extracts out loud. Both are available on the Story extracts page.

  • Only I Can Speak for my Conscience
  • A Conscientious Objector's Wartime Story

You can either read these to your children or get them to read them in order to help with literacy skills. Remember to focus on understanding meaning rather than accuracy of reading. As you are reading, ask the child/children to think about the following questions.

After you have read the stories discuss the questions, and talk about why conscientious objectors were treated differently from other people. Consider why it was brave of the objectors to stick to their principles, despite the attitudes of others.

Faith under fire

Activity 2

Discuss reasons why people pray when afraid, and why people make promises and bargains with God in return for his help.

Read the following extracts from the Story extracts page.

  • God's providence: Dunkirk 1940
  • Church Service at the Front

As you read the first, discuss why the soldier may have been unable to keep his promise. Think about what things could have happened during World War Two that stopped soldiers believing in God, and caused them to question their religious views.

Discuss what the word faith means and why it is important to many people.

As you read the second extract, ask your child/children to say 'Stop' when they hear a word that indicates faith. For example, 'Closer to God', 'treasured hymns', 'Never had a hymn meant so much'. When you have done this, discuss why these elements of faith would have been important to soldiers.

Religious comfort

Activity 3

Play the song 'These are a few of my favourite things' from 'The Sound of Music'. Then get your children to create a list of the comforting parts of the song that could help when people are afraid. You could get the children to add their own examples of their favourite things.

Read the following extracts from the Story extracts page.

  • The Faith of a Child - Light in Darkness
  • Kept Safe During the Manchester Blitz by 'BK'

As you read the first, ask your child/children to identify the words and phrases that indicate comfort, for example the word 'consoled'.

As you read the second, discuss what other religious activities people perform to help them feel safe, for example praying, singing, going to church.

You could help your child/children compose a song that might have been written during World War Two and might have comforted people at that time. You could use some of the words you have discussed from the extracts and refer to the actions of the second extract. The song should be comforting and uplifting, but reflect the fact that many people were separated from their families and many had relatives fighting. This activity could be related to any peaceful religious festival, such as Christmas, or none.

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