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Pupils realise war was not so lovely

In the school hall, the 13-year-olds were being put through their paces. "About turn," commanded Rose Ryan, an unlikely sergeant-major. "'Tenshun! " She is one of the education and training team from the Royal National Theatre which is touring the country with Joan Littlewood's Oh, What a Lovely War!, the musical about the First World War.

Gable Hall, a grant-maintained 11-16 school in Thurrock, Essex, is one of 11 local schools and more than 1,000 pupils taking part in a project based on the production.

The 242 pupils in Year 9 are immersed in the horrors of the war, not just through drama and other creative arts, but through English, French and German, history, religious education, technology and IT.

Liz Rymer, senior teacher at Gable Hall, said staff had welcomed the RNT's invitation to become involved. The theme tied in well with the history and RE syllabus. "It brought to life what they'd been working on," she said.

John Hoyle, head of English, said working with the professionals in the drama workshops had extended the children's understanding of the literature of that period.

"It brings it home to them. The quality of their writing is probably better than we'd get by reading it in class. They understand why those poets were so angry."

Each pupil was given the name of a real person from Thurrock who went to war. Boys in particular had been writing well.

Daniel Smith had written an 18-page diary in the guise of Christopher Campion, a local boy who enlisted. Daniel started out gung-ho and optimistic, but then the truth dawned. His work, along with others, will be on show in the theatre foyer.

Girls had been interested in the role of women in the war, said Sue Docherty, an English teacher, adding: "It's been so motivating it makes you wonder why we can't do more like it".

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