I am ashamed to say that I don’t really know my family’s history with regards to the World Wars.   I know my family have traced our family tree back through many many generations.   And that Mr B Senior (morning Hopalong) has worked tirelessly on the Barrow side of the family, but for me I don’t really know any of the stories related to the wars.   I don’t know how many of my grandfather’s brothers died or indeed fought and came home.   #DDay70 is not something that I can personally relate to.

But this morning I had to do a two hour school run due to dropping teen at school and then needing to go and collect the woofer from kennels where he has been enjoying himself for the past few days.    It’s Radio 2 for me in the mornings now and Chris Evans was doing a live broadcast from Normandy.   The stories, in their own words, from the veterans that were out there, moved me to tears.  Literally.

Hearing them all say “We Will Remember Them” is one of the most powerful things I have ever heard on the radio.  And even typing that now I am getting goosebumps.

Not only do I not have any personal stories to relate to with the War but I didn’t do history at school.   So my memory of actual facts is scant too.   I am not particularly academic (scraped O levels, no A levels) and standard learning in a classroom was not for me.    And it seems it isn’t for a lot of children.  Research shows that many children, particularly boys, don’t get the most of out of education when they are plonked in a classroom and told to copy facts off a blackboard.   Or made to recite facts from a book.

Something that was really brought home to me when we moved Jonnie from one school to his current one five years ago.  A sudden decsion, for all sorts of reasons.   We went to look at one that been recommended to us by a good friend who is himself a Deputy Head and said he really recommended it.    We paid a visit and loved the school.  The setting.   The ethos.   The boys themselves that we saw all seemed happy and polite.

Whilst Jonnie sat an entrance exam the Headmaster invited us to his study for a cuppa and told us an example of how they taught at the school.  It related to history.   And the war in particular

He explained that the boys would not necessarily get the most out of learning about the Wars by sitting in a classroom.   They wouldn’t really engage with something that had happened over 60 years ago.   It would sort of be “but Sir why are learning about this, it’s just dull”  so he decided to make it a bit more exciting.   A bit more engaging.  A bit more real.

First they hired a digger

Next they dug a trench.    A proper trench.  On the school grounds.

It rained.  A lot.

The trench filled with water.

The boys laughed

“don’t laugh boys, you are sleeping in that tonight”.


“yep, as soldiers not much older than you had to”

The boys, doing as they were told, clambered into the trench and tried to sleep.   They couldn’t sleep.  It was cold.  It was wet.   They were miserable.

“Sir, can we go in now?”

“Nope.  Those soldiers couldn’t.  This is what war is about.  This is what War is like”

The night wore on and some boys did manage to sleep, some told stories.

Until the Headmaster let off fireworks at 2am to mimic gunfire, right over their heads.

Those boys learned about war that night.  That learned what it was like to be young.  Cold.  Afraid.  Startled.   They learned a lot.  History came alive for them.   And a connection to their family members who had fought in the war was made.

We will remember them.

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  • This is great. Like you, I know very little about what my relatives did in the war. I know my grandpa was in the RAF but couldn’t fly as his eyesight was too bad. He died when I was 12 and too young to be interested anyway. My Dad was 18 in 1942 and joined the Navy. I have only the sketchiest information about what he did as that was all he would give us. I suspect he was protecting us. He would tell me the funny stories but kept the rest to himself. Remembrance Sunday was the only time I ever saw him cry. He was from Glasgow and was on Home Guard duty at the local hospital during a bombing raid one night. The things he told me about that night were horrific, I can only imagine what else he was remembering but wouldn’t share.

    I’m welling up just typing this as he left us 4 years ago, but your concluding phrase means a lot to me as I will always remember.

    • Kirsty thank you for your comment, and for sharing a little of your dad’s story. So often we hear this don’t we? “Oh he didnt like to talk about it” We can only imagine the horrors they saw. 4000 people died today on those beaches. It doesn’t bear thinking about. We MUST remember them. We owe them so much. Sending lots of love to you, and remembering with gratitude your daddy.

  • What a great school to make history come alive like that. It is hard for us to appreciate just how hard times were for soldiers, for us it is about heroic films and the like, nothing like reality. My Grandad took part in a research prject shortly before he died last year, where a university were interviewing veterans so we have as many first hand accounts as we can before we lose them all to old age. Not only must we remember them, we must remember to never let it happen again.

  • What a creative idea to bring history to life – and so important too, we need the past to head into a better future x

    ps. love you x

  • It’s fab when teachers make history really come alive. My oldest boys visited the Battlefields when they were in Y9 and it had a massive impact on them.

  • There should be more teachers like this one. Creative approaches open students up so much better than any front to desk teaching. My RE teacher had very similar teaching methods and we always had very interesting lessons with him x

  • I’ve got goosebumps from reading this. I’ve always been passionate about history, especially the second world war and I used to bug my grandma to tell me stories about what it was like during the war, then when I moved to France I used to get my gran-in-law to tell me stories about what it was like to be in occupied France during the war, as their war was so different to our war. I tell L about it all the time (even though she’s only 7) as all her great-grandparents are dead now, so it’s up to us to keep that memory alive and passed on to each generation. We will remember them. We will remember all of them.
    (What a great teacher and a great school – I had a great am dram history teacher who used to make it all come alive too, makes such a difference.)

  • That’s an amazing way to teach students about how it must have felt and to show them just how lucky they are that they don’t have to go through the same thing.

    I love that we celebrate our heroes like this x x

  • What a great post T! Don’t know a lot about my family;s history either and i think it might be time to start looking into it!

  • Powerful post T, if only all schools could be so hands on, a genius way of teaching.

    Last summer I stood on Arromanches beach and looked at the hulks of steel littering the beach and horizon out at sea, it stilled me and it was a very sobering day. I think everyone should visit at least once.

  • What an amazing way to bring the past back to life. It would be a real step forward if more schools were like this.

  • I am not sure what impresses me most – the school for an amazing way of bringing History to life, or the parents for not being PC mad and worrying that their children might get ill in the wet and cold.

    I too do not have any family stories of the War.

  • Your Grandfather, Walter, and Grandmother, Kathleen, both worked in “reserved occupations” during the second world war. They worked at ‘Lightalloys’ in Acton making sonar equipment for detecting submarines. Clearly a vital war effort. Walter was a metallagist and Kathleen worked in the office. The first time she went down onto the shop floor, Walter spotted how nervous she was and escorted her across the floor. Obviously she was impressed since they married soon afterwards.

    • I need to sit down and go through all this history. That is an extraordinary story!

  • ps,
    Your maternal Great Grandfather did die in the trenches in the First World War, so the more our and your generation does to remember the sacrifice the better.

    • oh wow. I remember Jonnie seeing if they could find his name in Ypres when he went with the school. I need to go through all of this with you and learn it. Quick

      • Gladly, while we still have a proverbial tear in the eye after yesterday. Great Post; well dione.

  • Wow.I’m tearing up reading the the last paragraph. My maternal grand father was in the second world war (he died after the war when I was 3), he was a prisoner of war in Germany and wasn’t forthcoming on what he went through.I know he suffered from shell shock but he was a much older man than those young boys.

  • What great post T and no wonder you moved school! My grandad drove a train and was part of the homeguard he would have to drive form Nottingham to London in the dead of night with NO LIGHTS ON to prevent bombings. How terrifying. How brave. How everyone dug deep and pulled out courage. What a shocking waste of lives.