By Tom Dare
INCREDIBLE PHOTOS showing 1940s high school students practising with rifles, tackling assault courses and learning CPR have shed light on America’s approach to total war. Taken in the years after the US joined WW2, the global conflict that saw approximately 60 million people killed, the photos show the day-to-day operations of America’s Victory Corps, an organisation “designed to mobilize secondary school students for more effective preparation and participation in wartime service.”
One image shows a row of four schoolgirls at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles practising their shooting in the school basement, while another captures a group of schoolchildren from Los Angeles’ Washington High School taking apart and rebuilding an aeroplane.
The Victory Corps were first established in 1942, a few months after America entered the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese in December 1941.
The group had their own uniform, command structure and fitness regime, and students had to enrol in a war-effort class, such as first aid or navigation, as well as at least one extracurricular activity in order to take part. All students also had to pass a physical fitness inspection, something the military considered essential due to the alarming number of enlistees who were failing their physicals.
The programme, which was hugely successful in the two years it ran for, was led by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War I fighter pilot and Medal of Honor recipient. It was considered ground-breaking at the time not just because it was the first programme to attempt to prepare high school students for all-out war, but also because it took in both white and black students a full ten years before public school desegregation was introduced in America.
At the height of its success, the Victory Corps was thought to contain around six million students from more than 28,000 schools across the country. It eventually began to be phased out as the war drew to a close, with the programme being disbanded from June 1944 onwards.