In the Victorian era, stereotypical family life featured the father as the sole provider for his wife and children, and in charge of the family’s finances and paying for all outgoing household expenses. This structure was to turn on its head once the First World War was in full swing.
When war was declared in 1914, many men volunteered to fight, caught up in the wave of patriotism and the belief that the war would be over by Christmas. Women and children watched as their fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, and sons marched off to war. Those men who chose to stay were forced to join up once conscription was introduced in January 1916; at first, it was only single men that were conscripted, but many married men felt it was their duty to enlist too, to protect their country and family. The war caused a great upheaval and tragedy in family life: sons went to fight and never came back, and thousands of children were left fatherless.
Before the war, single women could have worked in domestic service, but were expected to remain at home with the children once married. However, as men left to fight, women filled the gaps in the workforce, taking jobs in munitions factories, hospitals and on farms. Grandparents and other relatives took on more of the childcare while mothers went to work.