Images of a country at war revisited

Sally McKeown

IMAGES OF WAR . . . WORLD WAR 1. Teachers' resource disc available from Wirral Metropolitan College, Birkenhead. Pounds 19.95. It runs on PCs and a five-user network licence copy costs Pounds 49.95 plus VAT.

It is 80 years since the First World War started and few survivors remain to bear witness to the events. The problem now is conveying the significance of the war to later generations. We are all so accustomed to the sophisticated, hi-tech and ultimately sanitised violence as presented by the media that it is easy to overlook the horror of life in the trenches.

A new resource from Wirral College called Images of War brings together literature and contemporary photographs with extracts from the Daily Telegraph and the Illustrated War News. The disc contains some 50 pages and traces the development of the war.

There are fascinating insights of how the news was presented at the time. The Illustrated War News in 1915 reported on a speedy process of recruiting soldiers. It says: "As a method of attracting men, the secret of successful recruiting seems to be to put a recruit into uniform, immediately he joins. At Hackney, the recruits are learning the handling of guns in 45 minutes after enlistment!" One of the themes which emerges strongly in this selection is the class war. The pomp and ceremony of the funeral of Lord Roberts at St Paul's with the official lying in state as a war hero, is juxtaposed with Isaac Rosenberg's description of the dead in the poem Dead Man's Dump.

Images of War is full of strong images: a smiling soldier smoking what may be his last cigarette, craters and mud-filled chasms, dug-outs with sand bags, heavy guns billowing black smoke. Photos of shiny-buttoned, stiff-shouldered soldiers jostle with images of ruined towns and heaps of dead.

By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, 10 million soldiers had died on the battlefield. Eight million civilians had been massacred or died of disease or starvation.

The collection, which sets out to show the sacrifices made, ends with a quotation from Siegfried Sassoon's Aftermath: Do you remember that hour of din before attack And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?

Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you'll never forget.

Sally McKeown is manager at the National Council for Educational Technology

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