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Caring on the Home Front - Volunteer memories from World War Two

Stories » Teachers’ centre » Changing Roles – History Key Stages 2 and 3

Changing Roles – History Key Stages 2 and 3

A history research project (key stage 2 and key stage 3 12-14yrs)

Your chance to explore how people’s roles changed during the Second World War and how this affects us today.

Printable lesson resources

Curriculum context

Programmes of Study:

Schemes of work:


War is terrible, but it forces changes on society. The role of women changed dramatically during the Second World War as men were drafted overseas – and many of those men never returned.

This project pack aims to encourage children to explore how roles change, especially the roles of women in society, by:

Step 1: Explore the Caring on the Home Front website

Before you start, make sure the children have a copy of Project Sheet 1: What to do, which explains what they need to do.

Look at some of the stories in the site that talk about ‘changing roles’, especially those told by women. The following are good examples:

VADs: Kathleen Howard, Mildred Brett, Norma Hanson

Air Raids: Clare Lerner, Mary Glasgow, Jack Hunter, St. John Ambulance Men (Mr. Cardy talking about women ambulance drivers)

Welfare: Steve King, Connie Robinson, Sheila Grossman

POWs: Gladys Venner

Fundraising: Violet Ryder, Kathleen Thomas, Sylvia Leppard, Children throughout the UK

Youth And Cadets: Anne Wisla, Yvonne Albon, Ron Davis, Patrick Dickinson

These stories illustrate well how some people’s roles changed dramatically with the onset of war. Try to get the children to think about why their roles changed, and whether they think this was a good thing.

Teaching note

During the Second World War, many people were forced to change the lives they had quietly lived up until then. Young people were thrown into conflict and danger alongside each other and old class or work barriers were torn down. Women found themselves in completely new situations. Up until the outbreak of war their role was to nurture the young and be good housekeepers. The war required many men and medics to join the British Forces, and women then filled the vacancies – as lorry drivers, civilian nurses, farmhands, ambulance drivers and even gravediggers.

Step 2: Preparing for the role-play

Split the children into small groups. Within the groups ask the children to choose a ‘character’ from the site. Using the supplied Project Sheet 2: Role Play Character Research Sheet , they will then have to research the character’s background (the resource library is a good place to start) and creatively imagine what the future might be like for them.

Once they have described their character, they should think about how their role has changed as a result of war, and how it has affected them. This will help them to think about some of the things they might want to say in the role-play scenario outlined below.

If time permits, children could talk to older people within their own family groups, people whose own experience covers the Second World War. If possible they could use video or audio equipment to record the interviews and take photographs. These could form part of their role-play

Step 3: The role-play

The children have been asked in Project Sheet 1: What to do to imagine that it is Christmas Eve 1944. The characters have all taken shelter under ground in a large air raid shelter, while up above bombs fall all around and the street is on fire. The group start to talk to each other about the war and the effect it has had on their lives, as well as what they think might happen in the next few years. As midnight strikes each character makes a wish for the future.

Project Sheet 3: Role Play Scripting Sheet will help the children to script a role-play in their groups, which they should then perform to the class. They should be thinking about what their characters think about their roles changing as a result of war, what they think about volunteering to help others, and whether they all agree.

You could make the role play quite realistic by building a group ‘Morrison Shelter’ of a type used in homes during the war. You’ll find instructions by going to the resource library fact sheets. You could even make it more ‘period’ by having some 1940s-style food – Gladys Venner’s story might give you some ideas.

Step 4: Class discussion

You will be able to guide children through a short discussion at the end of their role-plays, asking them to think about what affect they think the Second World War has had on people’s, especially women’s, roles today. Older children could come out of character at the end of their role-plays to present their ideas on this. You could then think about war today and the way it affects millions of lives around the world.

Teaching note

Once the war was over and the men started to return home, many women were actually dismissed from the workplace to make room for them. Despite this, the war had made its impact, and attitudes to women in the workplace gradually began to change.

Extension work

You could perhaps hold a Changing Roles History Day at school, presenting the class role-plays to the rest of the school, and making a group wall display with the materials they have researched. They could add case studies and photos from the resource library . Perhaps they could invite the veterans along to an assembly where recognition would be given to their bravery and courage, and the influence of the war on the role of women and children today.

Useful links