Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category


I have been working with the schoolchildren from a local Bristol school, Fishponds Church of England Academy, for the past couple of  years as part of my work with Historic England’s ‘Heritage Schools’ scheme. This has involved taking them on First World War themed heritage walks around the local area, including visits to the nearby local war memorial and the Glenside Campus of University of West of England (UWE), the former mental asylum which, in its wartime guise at Beaufort War Hospital, had over 30,000 wounded service personnel pass through its gates.

Fishponds War Memorial, Bristol

Fishponds War Memorial, Bristol

During this period it was discovered that the striking Fishponds War Memorial was not ‘listed’ by Historic England.  The idea was formed to engage the local schoolchildren to work on getting their memorial listed. If successful, it would be the first time schoolchildren would play such an active role in this process.  Furthermore, it would be a wonderful way for local children to engage in their community. The project began with high hopes as Historic England has pledged to protect 2,500 war memorials by 2018 to mark the centenary of the First World War.

In November 2015 I accompanied Michael Gorely, who manages the ‘Heritage Schools’ programme for Historic England, and a number of Year 6 children to the war memorial. The task was to carry out a condition survey; recording factual details such as the memorial’s physical appearance, what materials it was made from, its shape, size, setting and any changes from its original design. Also noted were details of plaques and additional inscriptions. The children also researched its history and wrote persuasive letters asking the memorial be listed to the Designation Department at Historic England. It was the department’s  decision whether to grant listed status with the final ratification made by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. A selection of comments from the children’s letters can be found below.

“When we went to see the site, everybody had a fantastic time learning about it.”
“It is a great piece of history and most people would agree that it should be listed.”
“People would be devastated if anything happened to this historical memorial.”
“This amazing piece of history means something to everybody even if their family did not go to war…”
“Our memorial is a unique statue with lots of names carved down on it.”
“It is a part of the local community and we want to remember those who died for us.”

Children from Fishponds CofE Academy with members of the local RBL at Fishponds War Memorial, March 2016

Children from Fishponds CofE Academy with members of the local RBL at Fishponds War Memorial, March 2016

In March we heard the news their appeal had been successful; they are the first school in the country to achieve this! I was invited into the school on 22 March for a special assembly followed by a small wreath laying service at the memorial attended by standard bearers from the local Royal British Legion. The story made the Bristol Evening Post and we gave some interviews for BBC Radio Bristol’s breakfast show. The newspaper article can be read here: https://twitter.com/heritagemikeg/status/713032323537707011

The original memorial had been designed with a bayonet on the end of the soldier’s rifle but had been repeatedly vandalised. As a consequence the bayonet was eventually removed. The children and staff at the school are now working on getting a replacement bayonet added. Ironically, this is much harder now due to the memorial’s listed status!

The children holding hands, forming a protective ring around Fishponds War Memorial, March 2016

The children holding hands, forming a protective ring around Fishponds War Memorial, March 2016

A small number of Fishponds Church of England Academy children will be visiting the Houses of Parliament next week to speak to an All-Party Group about their success.

I have also recently heard that I heard yesterday that Historic England’s ‘Heritage Schools’ scheme has won the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage at the Europa Nostra Awards 2016. Press release: http://www.europanostra.org/awards/209/

Everyone who has been involved with this scheme has played a part in ensuring that pupils can learn about, connect with and enjoy their local heritage. So, let’s hope it continues and more children reap the benefits. And a huge congratulations from me to all of the children involved.

Further details: https://historicengland.org.uk/news-and-features/news/school-children-help-list-bristol-war-memorial

Prior to the armistice period and a subsequent battlefield trip to the Somme I spent a day at Carlshalton Boys Sports College. I had been invited there by History teacher, Julie Haunstetter.

What marked this day out over many of the other school visits I undertake was the commitment and interest shown by students. The school and history department had clearly vested a great deal of thought into the theme of remembrance in 2014 with one student Regan writing a heartfelt poem which has been added to a T-shirt to raise funds. This had been picked up by the BBC and Regan and a fellow student, Sam, had accompanied Julie Haunstetter on to the BBC Breakfast sofa.

For my November visit we had planned a full day with sessions looking at a variety of topics including enlistment, training and life in the trenches plus a session on tunnel warfare and our archaeological work at La Boisselle.

The most rewarding session was spent with higher ability students casting a critical eye over the use of sources. Over the past few years I have been horrified to hear and observe students simply relying on Google as a means to gather knowledge. I wanted Carshalton’s students to analyse why this was wrong and, as an example of flawed material, offered in a critical look at certain reference sources used in the writing of the Great War.

An obvious place to start was the British Official History (or to give it its full name, the History of the Great War based on official documents by direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence). I explained the process in which versions had been compiled. Ongoing analysis has found many inconsistencies in these volumes. I was able to show the students examples of correspondence between officers and the official historian, James Edmonds, held under reference CAB45 at the National Archives, Kew. What soon became obvious to all was that no ‘Other Ranks’ were consulted whatsoever. The Official History is an officers view of the war. The rank and file had little or no input.

Official History - truthful or flawed?

Official History – truthful or flawed?

Even more telling was the date that volumes were published. The two volumes covering 1914 were published in 1922 and 1925. Those covering 1918, the year of victory, were published before and even after the Second World War! For Volumes IV & V this is nearly thirty years after the events the books are chronicling. The drop in quality is clear to see and a study of the CAB45 records for 1918 show it was not always possible to rely on memories of ageing men. This prompted the students to think how best to write an accurate history.

Next, I gave examples of falsehoods and exaggeration in British war diaries. I have been lucky enough to have been privy to the research that my colleague Peter Barton has gathered from German archives over the last few years. What the research shows is revelatory. Many hours have been spent on telephone calls discussing and cross-referencing the inconsistencies between British and German records.  Put simply, one cannot find the truth if one doesn’t use all available sources. The histories we rely on – official sources – are not corroborative history. German records have been neglected horrendously over the last century. I was able to offer examples of inconsistencies in British reports that were taken as the truth when a simple cross-reference check of the records of the German unit on the other side of No Man’s Land would have provided a much clearer story; in short, a corroborative history. I also talked of the ongoing public and media fascination with Ypres and the Somme at the expense of any other Western Front battle. It was certainly something that got students and staff thinking….

The day ended with an hours discussion and presentation on remembrance. Finally, I must say how brilliantly the Carshalton students behaved. They were a credit to the school and I look forward to the chance to visit again in the future.

Finally a moment to put down a few words to thank you properly for last Friday. Your series of talks were absolutely amazing. The students were spell-bound the entire time and captivated by everything you presented to them. I have never seen them sit so still for so long! Their knowledge has clearly been enhanced by all that you spoke of (I have already been challenged several times as to why we are not learning about Arras), and at the same time, you have increased their interest and passion for learning about the First World War. A fantastic day, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Julie Haunstetter, History teacher, Carshalton Boys Sports College

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I recently spent the day giving a First World War workshop to Year 6 pupils at Orchid Vale Primary School in Swindon. During the morning I spoke about my job and the variety of roles I perform.  After that brief introduction I spoke at length about the wartime life of a typical British soldier, kit, food and the daily routine of trench warfare. Having brought along some German barbed wire found last year when walking on the Somme, I was able to show them the length of the barbs.

“We had a fabulous day on the Friday you came in. Without a doubt, the children found your visit inspirational – so much so that many now want to be historians! You helped bring to life some of the things they had started to read about and helped to give them an understanding of concepts that are hard for children in Britain today to imagine, in a way that was engaging.” Fran Randall, Year 6 teacher, Orchid Vale Primary School

We then spent some time talking about local Swindon men who went off to war. Having used Mark Sutton’s excellent ‘Tell Them Of Us’ book all about Swindon’s war dead, I had identified a number of characters that I knew would interest the children.

Arthur William Loveday DCM & Bar, 1st Wiltshire Regiment

Arthur William Loveday DCM & Bar, 1st Wiltshire Regiment

One of these men was Second Lieutenant Frederick Wheatcroft, a Swindon town footballer who was killed at Bourlon Wood during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. Another was a former GWR employee, Arthur William Loveday who had won the first of his two Distinguished Conduct Medals in a daring raid on the German trenches at Ploegsteert Wood in December 1915. We also looked at Swindon men who had gone to Canada before war started as so fought in the Candian Army.

The afternoon was spent visiting Swindon’s main war memorial. On arriving at the Cenotaph at Regent Place the children all had a good look at the memorial,  reading John McCrae’s famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. We then headed inside to the former Town Hall, now occupied by a dance studio.

Swindon War Memorial - hidden from public view behind curtains in a dance studio

Swindon War Memorial – hidden from public view behind curtains in a dance studio

Hidden behind curtains is the hugely impressive wooden war memorial, listing over 900 of Swindon’s men who were killed during the war. The children were very keen to look up the names of the men that we had discussed earlier. They also found names that were familiar to them and we looked up their details in Mark Sutton’s book. Our visit concluded with the singing of wartime songs beefier we headed back to the school.

We all agreed it was a great shame that the memorial was hidden from public view. Fran Randall, the teacher who had invited me to Orchid Vale is Swindon born and bred and yet had no idea about the memorial. Ironically, the memorial was paid for by public subscription but is not available for the public to view. For more information about Swindon in the Great War follow @SwindonGreatWar on Twitter.

I had a wonderful day at Orchid Vale, spent with inquisitive children and friendly staff. I hope their interest in the war continues, in particular their efforts to help the campaign to find a more suitable place for the town’s magnificent war memorial to be displayed.

Below are some extracts from pupil’s thank you letters:

“I have turned over a new leaf in history! It used to be a little bit boring to me, now I love it All thanks to you.”

“Finding out about your job inspired me to become historian myself. You obviously have lots of fun being a historian because you get to do lots of incredible things such as working for the BBC.”

“I used to think history was boring but now have a different perspective on it.”

“My class and I really enjoyed your visit, especially the trip to the memorial showing us who passed away and how special they were. What inspired me was learning about your job and your presentation about the war.”

“Before going on the trip I was not that interested in history, listening to the facts about the First World War and all about your life is inspired me to learn more. I found it fascinating to learn all about how people lived in the past.”

“Your visit I believe, pulled a history trigger in all of us and I’ve noticed that history seems more interesting when you know about it.”

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Shrewsbury International SchoolIn early November I spent a week working at Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok, Thailand helping explain many aspects of warfare on the Western Front from 1914-1918.  In particular, my task was to enhance and deepen students understanding of the war and the impact it had on individual soldiers, society and the implications for the wider world. I was also keen to show the importance of detailed historical study by using examples of my research. One special request was to hear of our archaeological and genealogical work at La Boisselle as an example of specific, detailed research. During a fascinating week I spoke to 800 students from the Year 6 Juniors through to A Level students in Years 11 and 12 (KS2 – KS6).

Talking to Year 6 students about my work

Talking to Year 6 students about my work

The majority of my time was spent working with students and staff in the History Department. Subjects ranged from my role as a historian through to elaborating on some of the archaeological projects I have been involved with over the past few years.  A recurrent topic was our archaeological project at La Boisselle. However, my main task was to provide a basic understanding of a ‘typical’ British soldier on the Western Front. Beginning with the enlistment process I was able to provide details on uniform and kit and training in the UK before deployment to France.  From the first experience of going into trenches I elaborated on daily trench routine, food, ration parties, medical arrangements and working parties.

“Our students are still buzzing and I’m hoping we see some of their enthusiasm convert into bigger numbers at AS and IGCSE level.” Stuart Howard, Head of History

Putting Wilfred Owen's time on the Western Front into context for Year 12 English students

Putting Wilfred Owen’s time on the Western Front into context for Year 12 English students

Whilst the majority of time was spent working with History students I also spoke with those studying English. The curriculum covers the works of Wilfred Owen and I was asked to put his experiences and poetry into some form of context within the war.  I was aided greatly with this by my work over the last year on an upcoming BBC Two television programme ‘Writers of the Somme’ which tells the story of the battle through the experiences and words of the poets and writers who took part.

The highlight of the working week was speaking on the theme of remembrance to 650 students in the Senior School assembly. During my week at Shrewsbury International School I was enormously impressed with the children’s enthusiasm, grasp of the subject and inquisitive nature and desire to find out more.

“We thoroughly enjoyed having you here and would love to plan another visit next year. The students and staff loved your talks and I think what worked so well was that you talked to and with the students, rather than at them. I felt that you pitched it all perfectly.” Kathy Wallace, Head of English

Giving the Senior School Remembrance Assembly

Giving the Senior School Remembrance Assembly

“During the week, Jeremy spoke to over 800 students ranging in age from 11 – 18 years old predominantly about aspects of the First World War needed for their studies. He was able to describe in detail the day to day routines of soldiers and their officers, the brutality of war and its legacy. His detailed knowledge of the topic and individual soldiers stories meant he was able to personalize the experiences of the men and their families. Jeremy also spoke in detail about the ongoing project at La Boisselle which was fascinating and incredibly moving.

His visit coincided with Remembrance Day and Jeremy took a Senior School assembly (650 students) focusing on 3 individual stories encapsulating the war. Students and staff were captivated as he shared the stories of a 16-year old boy soldier, 98-year old Lily Barron, whose father was killed on the Western Front when she was 5 years old and Hugh Dennis’s grandfather (BBC ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’)

Many of our students thought a First World War military historian would be old and boring. Jeremy certainly rapidly dispelled this idea by describing how he had worked in a number of jobs before following his passion of military history, how he researches for television companies and for families from all over the world with relatives that served in the war.

The interest created amongst staff and students alike was astonishing and testament to Jeremy’s deep subject knowledge, sensitive, professional delivery and approachability. His visit helped enthuse a new generation to the importance of history and how valuable and rewarding military research is. Our students undoubtedly gained a huge amount of knowledge and, most importantly, a deeper and more empathetic understanding of the First World War.

We cannot wait for his return in November 2014.” Sally Weston (Assistant Principal) Prep

After a week’s work at the school I spent the weekend based at Kanchanaburi on the Thailand-Burma Railway (Death Railway) visiting the war cemeteries, exploring cuttings in the jungle and looking into tragic events of another war. My ten days away was challenging, exhilarating and deeply moving. My sincere thanks to students and staff for their help with the week. I am already looking forward immensely to my return to Bangkok in the autumn.

I provide a variety of talks and workshops for schools. Please see my dedicated page for further details: http://jeremybanning.co.uk/schools-talks-and-battlefield-visits/.

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On 22 November I gave a workshop at Putney Park School in south west London. It was a fascinating day speaking to children ranging in age from six to fourteen. The morning was devoted to Juniors who had got into the swing of things by dressing in Great War era clothes for the day. One girl was wearing a genuine nurse’s outfit from the time. The day started with an hour’s talk on what it was like to be an infantry soldier, why men enlisted and how they did so, information on their training and then an hour-by-hour breakdown of a typical 24 hour period spent in the trenches.

Staff and children at the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields War Memorial

After a tea break we boarded a coach that took us to the nearby Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields War Memorial, situated in a five-acre area of landscaped ground. It commemorates men with Putney and Wimbledon connections; in consequence the memorial has many names. The children looked at these and I pointed out men with decorations (three Victoria Cross recipients alone) and those with the same surname; sadly the memorial contains many sets of brothers. The trip was based on trying to encourage the children to see not just a list of names but that every individual had a story whose death had left a loved one heartbroken and bereft. After laying a specially (and rather lovingly) crafted wreath followed by a minutes silence and the Exhortation we returned to school.

The wreath laying ceremony at the memorial

I was then able to provide details on some of the men listed on the memorial including Zeebrugge Raid hero, Lt Commander Arthur Harrison VC. I had found one local family, the Nottingham’s,  who had lost three brothers in the space of a year. Interestingly, each brother had fought in a different unit or service. I traced the family back to the 1881 census and was able to show how the family moved around and grew – there were seven children in total – before the war claimed the lives of three. The first to be killed was Leslie, a Gunner in the Royal Marine Artillery who was serving on HMS Queen Mary when it was lost at Jutland on 31 May 1916. The next boy lost was Arthur, a Sergeant in the 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry. He had emigrated to Canada before the war in search of work and, like so many other British in Canada at the start of war, had enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was badly wounded on the Somme on 9 September and two weeks later succumbed to his wounds, being buried in Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery.   The final boy to die was Ernest, the eldest of the family and a decorated sergeant in the Civil Service Rifles. He was killed on 10 June 1917. Using archival material I was able to show details of the brother’s service and, where possible, mention of them by name in battalion war diaries.

I finished my talk by speaking about Private Alfred Whittle, 10th Battalion Sherwood Foresters who was killed outside Ypres just after Christmas 1915. What made him special to the children was the fact that the CWGC recorded his daughter Alice lived at 7, Woodborough Road in Putney – part of what is now the school complex. I hoped that by picking specific names and elaborating on their story the children would realise that the list of names were once living, breathing human beings with families that loved them and mourned their passing.

The three 'Nottingham' brothers on the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields War Memorial. Arthur, Ernest & Leslie all died within a year of each other.

After lunch I spoke to Year 1 children about the census and what sort of things are recorded before finishing off with an hour’s lecture to Year 9 students on the life of an infantry soldier. My thanks to Mrs Wright for arranging the day, staff members for their welcome and the children for their enthusiasm and interest.

“Jeremy’s knowledge, professionalism, charisma and palpable enthusiasm for everything to do with World War 1 not only brought the topic alive for my students but changed the lives of many of us. In such a short time we fully understood trench warfare and the impact on families and nations. From the first time I made contact with Jeremy he responded quickly to my queries, offered fantastic ideas and prepared very well for the day. I simply would not teach the topic again without him.

In addition, after his visit I had enough material for the next four weeks for class work. The children steered their parents to find out more about their relatives using the strategies Jeremy taught. One has since visited the National Archives, read about her great grandfather in the war diaries and then researched the three battles he fought in, all of which Jeremy had mentioned. Another pupil researched her great grandfather by emailing relatives and was proud to bring in a number of items from his uniform and life. Jeremy’s idea of visiting a memorial and researching some of the names on there really brought it home to the children and I know that on Armistice Day, and probably every day, my children will really be remembering our men. Jeremy spent the morning with our year 5s and 6s and then did two wonderful presentations to year one and nine. I cannot recommend him highly enough.”

Mrs J. Wright, Head of Junior School, Putney Park School

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