Fighting bombs with straw hats: how a generation of Vietnamese children survived

By Ngoc Thanh   June 3, 2016 | 05:54 pm GMT+7

War affects all walks of life and children are not spared from its cruelty, but a generation of Vietnamese kids survived the bombardment thanks to the humble hat.

A photo exhibition being held at Hanoi's Literature Temple from June 1-5 is giving insight into the lives of Vietnamese children during the war from 1964 to 1972.

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During the war, children wore straw hats to protect themselves from shrapnel. Houses and schools were bombed and destroyed. Many children were made homeless and their schools had to be moved around or lessons sometimes had to take place after dark to avoid being targeted by heavy bombing.

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One school in the port city of Hai Phong had its roof covered with several layers of straw to withstand the impacts of the bombs. 

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Life for children was very hard in both the North and South of Vietnam during the war, and schools had to move sites due to air raids. In this picture, a lesson is taking place in the yard of a communal house, with children equipped with first aid boxes. 

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Two girls in Vinh Phuc Province wove their own straw hats to protect themselves from shrapnel.

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First-graders in the northern province of Phu Tho, about 80 kilometers from Hanoi, help each other with straw hats. 

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Children were part of the war effort, helping to barricade their schools and tending to injured people. In this photograph, pupils carry a first-aid stretcher to school.

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Children took first-aid courses after school.

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Children also learned to make bread.

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In the face of hardships, the fighting spirit of the children was supported by the Vietnamese Communist Party and the National Liberation Front. These institutions made young people aware of their duty to serve their country. Even young girls took part in the war efforts by constructing bomb shelters.

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According to one Hanoi publication: "A system of revolutionary education has taken shape and is fast growing. With this the innocent and unstained minds of the children can absorb the cream of the sound and rich national culture very early, and the children will work their way to become good sons and daughters, excellent pupils and young activists. In the “small deeds, great significance” movement, apart from learning, they enthusiastically join their parents and brothers in the fight against the enemy and defending their villages and hamlets."

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VnExpress reader Nguyen Thanh Minh said: "Childhood years are unforgettable. As innocent children, we went to school wearing straw hats in defiance of the sounds of jet fighters in the sky and the rumble of bombs during the American air raids. We could hear shots from our anti-aircraft guns and see red bursts of fire shoot through the sky, line after line, encircling American jet fighters. Then came the war with the Chinese invaders at the northern border. We were born in the 1960s and are proud that we came through those hardships. We had our heads held high walking out of the wars."

 
 
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