Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Writing - Child warriors

For the whole of time being a child has been full of conflict. There has been exploitation on a vicious scale and we seem to be trying to make up for it in the twenty first century.

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Children in the coal mines

In Sparta boys were wrenched from their families at the age of 7 and trained for the next thirteen years to be soldiers. It's different now but children as young as seven may be wrenched from their family homes to attend boarding school!

The first youth movement may have been led by a french boy called Stephen of Cloyes. He armed his young followers with the scriptures and about 30 000 set off towards Jerusalem. He gathered such a crowd by telling stories and performing miracles, but things went awry when they reached the Mediterranean. It failed to part and allow the children passage.

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Noble warriors began as seven year old boy pages who were sent from one noble family to serve in another family carrying out menial chores for which they received education and hospitality. They also received military training and used the crossbow one of the few weapons they could manage.

Between the 14th and 19th centuries the Ottoman Empire rounded up non-Muslim children, some had been captured after battles others were kidnapped, and the system was given the title devshirme which means lifting or collecting in Turkish. The children were dressed in red so that they were recognisable in the event of escape. Once again they were put into service and trained as soldiers. The soldiers were elite infantry and their units were called Janissaries. 

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Powder monkey

The British Royal Navy used the term 'powder monkeys' to describe the boys that were press ganged into service in the 17th century.

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Little drummer boys were popular in the west and could be as young as nine years old. Their function was to beat a pattern as a signal. Several became quite famous.

The teenage Tommies were not forced into the army but typically lied about their ages to fight for Britain in the First World War. The youngest was aged 12 and another was discovered, aged 13, crying during a particularly heavy bombardment.

During the Second World War there was much made of the role of Hitler Youth. The training for these boys and girls was light and they were used as 'cannon fodder' when the Allied armies were on their final push to conquer Germany.

Sadly the final group are a modern phenomenon that are soldiers because of the lightness of modern weapons. Many are found in Africa.

This blog is about child soldiers but in many ways reflects the developments in the worlds attitudes to children over more than a thousand years as well as the changes in the way we wage war. Hopefully, the use of children will be stopped.

The advent of children in adult worlds can bring interesting conflicts and relationships in to books that are fundamentally adult focused.

God Bless