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‘When the Boys Come Home’: The Relationship of Sunday Schools, Veterans, and their Dependents

University of Durham


Caitriona McCartney is a postgraduate researcher in the Theology Department at the University of Durham under the supervision of Professor Michael Snape. She completed her BA (Hons) in War Studies and MA in the History of Warfare at the University of Birmingham. Her thesis explores British Sunday schools in the era of the First World War, 1900-1939. It will consider the role and importance of Sunday schools in the religious and social life of Britain. The thesis will also explore the effectiveness of the schools in the dissemination of religious knowledge and faith to the population.


British Sunday schools did not emerge from the First World War unscathed. The war effort meant that many of their scholars and teachers were called to fight. In the first half of the twentieth century, the schools played an important role in disseminating and forming Christian faith in Britain. For example, it is estimated that nine-tenths of the population attended a Sunday school at some point in their childhood. Attendance was also particularly high amongst the working classes. Given that the rank and file of the British Army was recruited from this class, it is very likely that many soldiers had attended or belonged to a school. Throughout the war, the schools considered what could be done for veterans when they returned to Britain. Their thoughts also turned to the families and friends of the men who never came home. Consequently, in the immediate aftermath of the war many schools focused upon commemorating their fallen men and assisting those who survived to transition back into civilian life. Therefore, this paper intends to consider the relationship of these schools with veterans and their dependents both during and after the war. It will explore how the schools commemorated and supported these groups and demonstrate that these actions were deeply appreciated by them. The paper will also consider the international connections of the schools across the world considering how they commemorated and supported veterans who had emigrated before the war and others in countries who had been deeply affected by the war.