'More dangerous to be a baby than a soldier...'

'More dangerous to be a baby than a soldier...'

The loss of so many young men in the war focussed attention on the need to raise healthy children to replace them. As the Bishop of London pointed out,

While nine soldiers died every hour in 1915, twelve babies died every hour, so that it was more dangerous to be a baby than a soldier... The loss of life in this war has made every baby’s life doubly precious.

This was no less true in Scotland: the Linlithgow Gazette noted in 1918 some 128,000 children had died in Scotland during the course of the war  -  in other words, the stark truth was that more babies had died than soldiers.

The Government ordered local authorities to improve child and maternal welfare by employing nurses and trained midwives, and improving public health.

In the local newspapers, we can trace how West Lothian’s local authorities attempted to reduce the rate of infant mortality. There was a dire need for them to tackle the problem as Armadale, for example, had the third highest infant mortality in Scotland. At the start of the war, West Lothian was the worst-housed county in Scotland, and some commentators noted the connection between the two problems. But the pressures on the war economy made it more feasible to address infant health than attempt to rebuild much of Scotland's housing stock.

Tackling the housing problem had to wait until the end of the war, and the housing acts of the 1920s.

©West Lothian Local History Library

For more information on any aspect of West Lothian and the First World War, contact localhistory@westlothian.gov.uk  -  http://www.westlothian.gov.uk/article/2055/Local-History-Library.

More info: 

Child mortality first became an active concern of government during the First World War (Internet Book Archive images on Flickr)
Cartoon highlighting the government’s new interest in infant mortality. There was a tendency to blame the ignorance of working class mothers for infant deaths, rather than poverty and poor housing. Midlothian Advertiser, 30 April 1915, p2.