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Kinship (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

The picture acts as a drop cap for the text. Purple letter K with a laurel wreath, representing the A to Z Challenge blogging event. Text below the logo says 'Blogging from A to Z April Challenge' and 'a-to-zchallenge.com'

The Great War had a weird effect on family dynamics. On the one hand, after the war, there was a desire to ‘go back to normal’, on the other, genre self-awareness and roles had profoundly changed. And there was also the matter of coming to terms with war-damaged bodies and minds. 

Of course, the war profoundly disturbed family life. Millions of men—whether fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons—left their families, some never to return. This left wives, mothers, and elderly parents without the support of the ‘men of the house’, a situation that required readjustment. 
However, when the soldiers did return, there was a strong desire to ‘go back to normal’, which strongly reaffirmed traditional family life. 

The impact of the Great War on family life

Pinterest Pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Kinship." The black-and-white picture shows a group of women and young children with mourning clothes huddled together. The fashion of the clothes suggests the interwar years.

A war as devastating and as long as the Great War – which was unheard of before it happened – produced extremely important changes in family life. 

The removal of millions of soldiers forced their families to readjust and rebalance in a different, often new and unconventional way. This impacted families not just during the war but even afterwards since many men didn’t return at all, and their families had to permanently make do with the new situation. 

Many women joined the workforce, which was something always intended ‘for the duration’. 
Yet, many soldiers didn’t come home. 
This meant, on the one hand, that there were young families that were now headed by women who had to support themselves and their children, and on the other, that many young women didn’t marry at all, either because their fiance didn’t come home, or because of the shortage of marriable men who were available after the war. 
The loss of so many young men also impacted their parents, who, in their later life, found themselves without support. 

There was a kind of hole in all belligerent societies, a void left by the losses of war but also by the unborn children and the unmarried youths. 

A void in family support – whether it was towards the very young or the old – that all the nations tried to fill, often without results. The sheer amount of economic commitment was too much for economies recovering from the war and readjusting to peace rhythms.
In this sense, the family tights that did remain became extremely important. 

But even when soldiers did come home, the situation was challenging. 

A strong desire to ‘go back to normal’ was common. Those who did return wanted to marry if they hadn’t before the war and build a family that looked and felt like it used to. This actually strengthened the traditional family and family values but also badly disrupted them when this was not possible. 

All nations favoured returning soldiers when it came to jobs and occupations in an effort to sustain the traditional family life. 
Women who had worked during the war found themselves suddenly jobless, and this created a dire situation when these women were now the family breadwinners. Children and elders now counted on them. Yet governments never favoured women when it came to jobs. Many could not marry (or remarry) even when they wanted because of the great losses in the male population. 

The Lost Generation had to navigate these contrasting pushes and pulls in their societies, where they desired a traditional family but faced a totally new situation involving life standards and mental and emotional shifts. 

The culture of death of the interwar years

Interwar societies had to navigate a very unique situation. 
They were composed disproportionately of widows, unmarried women, orphans and elderly people without support. 
These societies were haunted by the missing—not just the void left by the men (and women) lost on the battlefields but also the void of unconceived children. Births in combatant countries plummeted during the war, leaving the age cohorts of those born between 1915 and 1919 disproportionately small. Even after the war, where there was indeed a surge both in marriages and births, the numbers didn’t level out. 

It wasn’t just a mere question of numbers, though. 
Interwar societies were heavily shrouded in loss, often a loss they could not cope with. 
They resorted to spiritualism to try to connect with lost ones that sometimes didn’t have a tomb. They pilgrimaged to the silenced battlefields to try and find a place where to mound their lost ones. 
Basically, every family had to cope with at least one loss – and often more than one. 

These societies were obsessed with the feeling of loss and the inability to fill it. The culture of postwar societies was in many respects a culture of death.

Kinship (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) – The Great War profoundly impacted all family dynamics, and yet family structure weathered the devastation of war quite steadily #WWI #history Share on X
RESOURCES

International Encyclopedia of the First World War – Post-war Societies


Horizontal banner for the book "The Great War". On the left-hand side is the photo of a group of soldiers standing in a WWI trench. A Yellow button reads, "Go to Shop". On the right-hand side is a picture of a stake of two books, of which only the spine is visible, and the cover of a book standing upright, with the same group of soldiers standing in the trench. The stake of books stands against an olive green background. A big title in yellow reads "The Great War", and a smaller text reads "The updated ebook".

10 Comments

  • Kristin Cleage
    Posted April 12, 2024 at 13:32

    Such huge losses. And then some of the men that came back had horrible war wounds from which they never recovered.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2024 at 19:32

      I can’t even imagine how the post war years must have been…

  • D.A.Cairns
    Posted April 12, 2024 at 21:35

    I think the shift is family dynamics was probably a good one in hindsight. It paved the way for later advances in the feminist cause and certainly taught society, especially men in predominately patriarchal societies, that women were as strong and resilient as men.
    https://dacairns.com.au/blog/f/a-to-z-blogging-challenge-k

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2024 at 19:33

      I agree. The change in family and couple dynamics might have been fleeting at the time, but I too think that they resurfaced and became stronger years later. It might have been different if they had never happened.

  • Viktor Steiner
    Posted April 13, 2024 at 08:45

    My grandfather was Swiss. Although Switzerland was neutral, he and most other men of fighting age spent most of the Great War at the borders, defending the country from attack. This left my teenage father, the oldest child, somewhat the buck of the family, with unnatural responsibilities and presumed authority. He was sixteen when his father returned at the end of the war and apparently had great difficulty accepting a ‘new’ father-figure.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2024 at 19:35

      What a story! Thanks so much for sharing it.
      War can create situation we cannot even imagine. Imagine a child being the head of a family. And yet, there must have been many back then.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 13, 2024 at 18:38

    They sound broken in so many ways…

    Ronel visiting for K: My Languishing TBR: K
    Two-Faced Kishi

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 13, 2024 at 19:50

      Very true. Including ways that are hard for us to understand.

  • J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them)
    Posted April 17, 2024 at 03:41

    And then there were the Native Americans who were granted citizenship to be recruited in the military, but came back to find out they were still unwanted and unhirable and denied the rights held by many others.
    Lots of great information here.
    Great post!
    “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
    ― Robert Louis Stevenson #quote
    Hope you’re enjoying the A to Z Challenge.

    J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Speculative Fiction & Reference Author and Co-host of the April Blogging #AtoZchallenge

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 19, 2024 at 21:05

      That’s true. I’ve long wanted to write something about Native American in the 1920s.

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