Preparing for Remembrance - 100 years of gratitude

Posted on October 09, 2017

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Taken from the latest edition of our magazine Connected – start planning ahead for the 2018 First World War centenary commemorations. Here Major Pat Walsh talks about ways schools can get involved as they will already be planning ahead for 2018.

There are many ways to involve our young people in the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

Remembrance has always been an important activity for schools and cadet force units alike, but we are currently in the middle of a particularly poignant time. The centenary commemorations of the First World War will continue until the victory commemorations on 11 November 2018 and cadets and regular forces across the UK have already participated in many events since 2014. The Army even has a name for its campaign of centenary commemoration activity: Op Reflect.

Many CCFs will have their own way of remembering the sacrifices of the past, but there are some national schemes that are also worth exploring.

Major Pat Walsh, SO2 Commemorations at Army HQ Home Command, supports schools to take part in commemorative activities. A priority for him at the moment is to raise awareness of the government-funded First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme. Under the programme, led by UCL Institute of Education, one teacher and two students from every state-funded secondary school in England can book on to a free four-day tour of the Western Front. It’s a fantastic opportunity for state-school CCFs in particular, Pat says.

“Some schools have competitions to find students to go on the tours, some simply forward nominations,” he says. “The tour provider sends a guide and it’s our responsibility to send a serving soldier to give context to the tour. The soldier goes on the bus with the children so they get a bit of interaction. It’s worked out very well. It’s self selecting in a way: the kind of soldier who’s interested in battlefield tours is generally going to contribute well to the tour.”

Anyone who has been to the battlefields of northern France will understand the impact that such a visit can have, especially on young minds. “There are a number of worthwhile outcomes: a better appreciation of history, an understanding of the sacrifice,” Pat says. “On the trip I went on, the students seemed quite moved. Some had very little understanding and this brought it to life for them: actually being there, seeing where the soldiers died and seeing the scale of the cemeteries. The teachers were also moved by it. They thought they’d benefit in terms of their future teaching.”

Pat also supports schools in participating in the Soldiers to Schools scheme. This is a part of the Army’s First World War commemorations: all secondary schools in the UK can request a soldier to come and support learning activities. They’re not experts in First World War history, but they have received some training in speaking about their own experiences and comparing them to those of the soldiers of 100 years ago.

“Again, this works well for CCF contingents,” Pat says. “It’s the head’s decision to invite a soldier in, and it’s in no way a recruiting tool. The soldier can simply talk about his or her experiences in the context of what the school is already teaching about the First World War.”

Finally, Pat highlights Never Such Innocence, an annual arts competition open to all school students throughout 2014-18. The project is a charity in its own right, and Pat’s department has not had any official dealings with it yet, but he is still keen to promote it.

“It’s a broad competition of singing, music and poetry,” Pat says. “The standard is quite unbelievable. The point is to try and find something positive in the centenary commemorations – and to see that some good can eventually come out of it.”

Find out more about the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme:

www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org   

More information on Soldiers to Schools:

www.army.mod.uk/training_education/25813.aspx

Enter a competition as part of the Never Such Innocence project:

www.neversuchinnocence.com

The Royal British Legion has remembrance learning packs, lesson plans and other resources available to download free:

www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/schoolslearning/learning-resources