Do we want to commemorate with children as young as three and four a long, drawn out and bloody war which resulted in death and destruction on a scale hitherto unknown? That is the question faced by hundreds of schools in this, the one hundredth year since the start of the Great War.
For teachers at Leicester Grammar Junior School (LGJS), the answer was a resounding “yes”. Such a significant event in 20th century world history, which changed the lives of millions of people forever, cannot be ignored. Out of respect for those who lost their lives in a period which has now faded from living memory, we have a duty to pass on their stories to our children.
By engaging even their youngest children in a series of reflective activities of remembrance, LGJS have focused on the message that the suffering of war gives us the incentive to avoid it in the future. Key Stage 1 donned their wellies, went out in the mud and planted poppy seeds in the school grounds; they then made their own poppy wreaths to decorate their classroom. Year 2 were inspired by the poppy installation at the Tower of London, and made their own giant wall display with paper poppies representing the fallen and their thoughts about peace written on doves which fly high in the sky above.
Children in Key Stage 2 experienced what life would have been like on the battlefield during a World War I week held earlier this term when ‘soldiers’ and their life size trench visited the school. A cookery lesson enabled children to make hardtack biscuits, which would have sustained the men fighting in the trenches. They learned that those same men would have shared the trenches with lice and fleas and rats (as big as cats) and often suffered from trench foot. Dressing up in uniform hats and coats and practising drill with muskets and (bean bag) bombs was a highlight for some.
Each child in the school painted a model of a soldier to form part of a 3-D scene from the battlefield. It is hard to imagine that there were many families untouched by the Great War and so everyone was encouraged, with the help of their parents, to delve into the history of their own family with the purpose of learning about how the war affected them.
The enthusiasm and response of the children was amazing, and an informative and interesting display now sits proudly in the school’s foyer. The work submitted really does capture the global nature of the conflict with one great great grandfather fighting with the Canadian Army at Vimy Ridge; one photograph showing a soldier proudly seated on his camel in Egypt; and another of a Colonel in the Indian Army, his rank defined by the badge on his turban.
Several trips out of school have been arranged for children to further experience aspects of World War I. Years 5 and 6 went to see a production of ‘War Horse’ and afterwards produced their creative response to it in the form of art work, poetry, diary entries and models, many based on their reflections about the use of animals in war.
The opportunity to develop historical research skills was given to some of the older children who, on a visit to Leicestershire Record Office, used census returns, marriage registers and birth certificates to piece together the life of a local man who fought on the front line. They also went on a history walk into the local village of Great Glen and discovered the real life stories behind the names on the War Memorial. Many were surprised to learn that some of the soldiers who didn’t return were the same age as their older brothers and sisters.
Just ahead of 11th November Year 6 impressed with their choice of words to sum up Remembrance Day: respect, suffering, courage, sacrifice, paying with one’s life, gratitude, freedom, peace. They have clearly taken from these commemorations the message that was intended. The last two are particularly poignant as, in these troubled times, this is what we all wish for all children everywhere.
On 11th November we held a candlelit service to remember all of those who have lost their lives in war, and in particular those who died during the First World War, in this centenary year. We lit candles to remember those who had died, but also to show that where there is light there is hope.