We are delighted this week to feature a very special blog post from the High School of Dundee, written by Niall Joss, which explores how pupils connected with the First World War through the British Newspaper Archive and a war memorial.
How did the British Newspaper Archive and a war memorial inspire primary school children to connect with the First World War?
With the centenary of the end of First World War just passed, how can children born in the 21st century connect with a 20th century conflict? That question was going around in my head as I approached teaching the topic to my Primary 7 (Year 6) children. I knew that they were fascinated by the weapons and the battles but could they connect with the personalities and the loss?
That’s where the BNA and our school war memorial came in. Knowing a bit of the history of the First World War in our area, I was aware that one battle in particular – the Battle of Loos – had a major impact. A small piece of research later and I had identified the names on our War Memorial of former pupils and members of staff who had lost their lives within that battle.
The war memorial at the High School of Dundee
Our class then visited our school war memorial, discussed what it showed, why it was there and then we identified the names of those who lost their lives.
On returning to our class we then accessed downloaded copies from the BNA of our local newspaper the Dundee Courier for the first and subsequent days of the battle. We charted the progress – from initial success to the reality of failure and massive loss of life. But more than this, we read the stories of real lives – of names that we recognised from our war memorial, with photographs, addresses that we knew, names of parents, brothers and sisters. We even had the poignant experience of reading the story of an officer returning to the Front Line after recovery from an earlier injury to hear that his brother had been killed in the initial stages of the battle… and realising that with hindsight we knew that in less than a fortnight the officer would be dead too…
More than this, we were able to read the whole newspaper, and see the football results, adverts, weather forecast and so on. We were also able to head into a discussion about ‘Fake News’ inspired by the fact that all information from the Front Line was coming direct from the military.
From a potentially ‘dry’ topic I saw the names on our War Memorial come ‘alive’ for the children. They were inspired to find out more, and question what they already knew. On 25th September, the beacon from Dundee Law commemorates the Battle of Loos every year, and this year there were definitely more children who recognised the significance.